The Importance Of Excel In The Workplace

Excel is perhaps the most important computer software program used in the workplace today. That’s why so many workers and prospective employees are required to learn Excel in order to enter or remain in the workplace.

From the viewpoint of the employer, particularly those in the field of information systems, the use of Excel as an end-user computing tool is essential. Not only are many business professionals using Excel to perform everyday functional tasks in the workplace, an increasing number of employers rely on Excel for decision support.

In general, Excel dominates the spreadsheet product industry with a market share estimated at 90 percent. Excel 2007 has the capacity for spreadsheets of up to a million rows by 16,000 columns, enabling the user to import and work with massive amounts of data and achieve faster calculation performance than ever before.

Outside the workplace, Excel is in broad use for everyday problem solving.

Let’s say you have a home office. You can use Excel to calculate sales tax on a purchase, calculate the cost of a trip by car, create a temperature converter, calculate the price of pizza per square inch and do analysis of inputted data. You can track your debt, income and assets, determine your debt to income ratio, calculate your net worth, and use this information to prepare for the process of applying for a mortgage on a new house. The personal uses for Excel are almost as endless as the business uses for this software – and an Excel tutorial delves into the practical uses of the program for personal and business use.

The use of spreadsheets on computers is not new. Spreadsheets, in electronic form, have been in existence since before the introduction of the personal computer. Forerunners to Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 were packages such as VisiCalc, developed and modeled on the accountant’s financial ledger. Since 1987, spreadsheet programs have been impacting the business world. Along the way, computerized spreadsheets have become a pervasive and increasingly effective tool for comparative data analysis throughout the world.

Today, end users employ Excel to create and modify spreadsheets as well as to author web pages with links and complex formatting specifications. They create macros and scripts. While some of these programs are small, one-shot calculations, many are much more critical and affect significant financial decisions and business transactions.

Widely used by businesses, service agencies, volunteer groups, private sector organizations, scientists, students, educators, trainers, researchers, journalists, accountants and others, Microsoft Excel has become a staple of end users and business professionals.

The beauty of Excel is that it can be used as a receiver of workplace or business data, or as a calculator, a decision support tool, a data converter or even a display spreadsheet for information interpretation. Excel can create a chart or graph, operate in conjunction with Mail Merge functions, import data from the Internet, create a concept map and sequentially rank information by importance.

Excel offers new data analysis and visualization tools that assist in analyzing information, spotting trends and accessing information more easily than in the past. Using conditional formatting with rich data display schemes, you can evaluate and illustrate important trends and highlight exceptions with colored gradients, data bars and icons.

Indeed, Excel can be customized to perform such a wide variety of functions that many businesses can’t operate without it. Excel training has become mandatory in many workplaces; in fact, computer software training is a must for any workplace trying to keep up with the times.

Let’s say you’re an employer with 97 workers, 17 of whom called in sick today, and you want to know the percentage represented by absentees. Excel can do that. You can learn Excel and use it to determine the ratio of male to female employees, the percentage of minorities on the payroll, and the ranking of each worker by compensation package amount, including the percentages of that package according to pay and benefits. You can use Excel to keep track of production by department, information that may assist you in future development plans. You can create additional spreadsheets to track data on vendors and customers while maintaining an ongoing inventory of product stock.

Let’s say you want to know your business production versus cost. You don’t have to be a math wiz – you just have to learn Excel. Excel allows you to input all of the data, analyze it, sort it according to your customized format, and display the results with color, shading, backgrounds, icons and other gimmicks that offer time-saving assistance in later locating precisely the information desired. If this spreadsheet is for presentation purposes, Excel helps you put it together in such a visually appealing way that the data may seem to pop and sparkle.

The single most important thing an employer may do is learn Excel – it is one of the most essential tools of the workplace.

Excel and Microsoft are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation, registered in the U.S. and other countries. Lotus is a registered trademark of International Business Machines Corporation in the U.S. and/or other countries.

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Why Do We Need Software Engineering?

To understand the necessity for software engineering, we must pause briefly to look back at the recent history of computing. This history will help us to understand the problems that started to become obvious in the late sixties and early seventies, and the solutions that have led to the creation of the field of software engineering. These problems were referred to by some as “The software Crisis,” so named for the symptoms of the problem. The situation might also been called “The Complexity Barrier,” so named for the primary cause of the problems. Some refer to the software crisis in the past tense. The crisis is far from over, but thanks to the development of many new techniques that are now included under the title of software engineering, we have made and are continuing to make progress.

In the early days of computing the primary concern was with building or acquiring the hardware. Software was almost expected to take care of itself. The consensus held that “hardware” is “hard” to change, while “software” is “soft,” or easy to change. According, most people in the industry carefully planned hardware development but gave considerably less forethought to the software. If the software didn’t work, they believed, it would be easy enough to change it until it did work. In that case, why make the effort to plan?

The cost of software amounted to such a small fraction of the cost of the hardware that no one considered it very important to manage its development. Everyone, however, saw the importance of producing programs that were efficient and ran fast because this saved time on the expensive hardware. People time was assumed to save machine time. Making the people process efficient received little priority.

This approach proved satisfactory in the early days of computing, when the software was simple. However, as computing matured, programs became more complex and projects grew larger whereas programs had since been routinely specified, written, operated, and maintained all by the same person, programs began to be developed by teams of programmers to meet someone else’s expectations.

Individual effort gave way to team effort. Communication and coordination which once went on within the head of one person had to occur between the heads of many persons, making the whole process very much more complicated. As a result, communication, management, planning and documentation became critical.

Consider this analogy: a carpenter might work alone to build a simple house for himself or herself without more than a general concept of a plan. He or she could work things out or make adjustments as the work progressed. That’s how early programs were written. But if the home is more elaborate, or if it is built for someone else, the carpenter has to plan more carefully how the house is to be built. Plans need to be reviewed with the future owner before construction starts. And if the house is to be built by many carpenters, the whole project certainly has to be planned before work starts so that as one carpenter builds one part of the house, another is not building the other side of a different house. Scheduling becomes a key element so that cement contractors pour the basement walls before the carpenters start the framing. As the house becomes more complex and more people’s work has to be coordinated, blueprints and management plans are required.

As programs became more complex, the early methods used to make blueprints (flowcharts) were no longer satisfactory to represent this greater complexity. And thus it became difficult for one person who needed a program written to convey to another person, the programmer, just what was wanted, or for programmers to convey to each other what they were doing. In fact, without better methods of representation it became difficult for even one programmer to keep track of what he or she is doing.

The times required to write programs and their costs began to exceed to all estimates. It was not unusual for systems to cost more than twice what had been estimated and to take weeks, months or years longer than expected to complete. The systems turned over to the client frequently did not work correctly because the money or time had run out before the programs could be made to work as originally intended. Or the program was so complex that every attempt to fix a problem produced more problems than it fixed. As clients finally saw what they were getting, they often changed their minds about what they wanted. At least one very large military software systems project costing several hundred million dollars was abandoned because it could never be made to work properly.

The quality of programs also became a big concern. As computers and their programs were used for more vital tasks, like monitoring life support equipment, program quality took on new meaning. Since we had increased our dependency on computers and in many cases could no longer get along without them, we discovered how important it is that they work correctly.

Making a change within a complex program turned out to be very expensive. Often even to get the program to do something slightly different was so hard that it was easier to throw out the old program and start over. This, of course, was costly. Part of the evolution in the software engineering approach was learning to develop systems that are built well enough the first time so that simple changes can be made easily.

At the same time, hardware was growing ever less expensive. Tubes were replaced by transistors and transistors were replaced by integrated circuits until micro computers costing less than three thousand dollars have become several million dollars. As an indication of how fast change was occurring, the cost of a given amount of computing decreases by one half every two years. Given this realignment, the times and costs to develop the software were no longer so small, compared to the hardware, that they could be ignored.

As the cost of hardware plummeted, software continued to be written by humans, whose wages were rising. The savings from productivity improvements in software development from the use of assemblers, compilers, and data base management systems did not proceed as rapidly as the savings in hardware costs. Indeed, today software costs not only can no longer be ignored, they have become larger than the hardware costs. Some current developments, such as nonprocedural (fourth generation) languages and the use of artificial intelligence (fifth generation), show promise of increasing software development productivity, but we are only beginning to see their potential.

Another problem was that in the past programs were often before it was fully understood what the program needed to do. Once the program had been written, the client began to express dissatisfaction. And if the client is dissatisfied, ultimately the producer, too, was unhappy. As time went by software developers learned to lay out with paper and pencil exactly what they intended to do before starting. Then they could review the plans with the client to see if they met the client’s expectations. It is simpler and less expensive to make changes to this paper-and-pencil version than to make them after the system has been built. Using good planning makes it less likely that changes will have to be made once the program is finished.

Unfortunately, until several years ago no good method of representation existed to describe satisfactorily systems as complex as those that are being developed today. The only good representation of what the product will look like was the finished product itself. Developers could not show clients what they were planning. And clients could not see whether what the software was what they wanted until it was finally built. Then it was too expensive to change.

Again, consider the analogy of building construction. An architect can draw a floor plan. The client can usually gain some understanding of what the architect has planned and give feed back as to whether it is appropriate. Floor plans are reasonably easy for the layperson to understand because most people are familiar with the drawings representing geometrical objects. The architect and the client share common concepts about space and geometry. But the software engineer must represent for the client a system involving logic and information processing. Since they do not already have a language of common concepts, the software engineer must teach a new language to the client before they can communicate.

Moreover, it is important that this language be simple so it can be learned quickly.

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Review of Takeoff Software for Estimating Construction

So often people want to rush out and buy estimating software or takeoff software without first trying to define their internal estimating processes. Once the estimating process is clearly defined, then and only then, can you actually try to compartmentalize the process into segments. So often the segment is really quantity takeoff. Takeoff of what you may wonder? That is like the million dollar question. This article will speak about the takeoff software process which usually associated with estimating software processes. The takeoff software process can often be takeoff of materials for some folks, and to many others, the takeoff process of scoped systems to create estimates or proposals. This review or comparison will not try to explain the estimating software process but bring to you valid quantity takeoff thinking among estimators in a quest to find which product thinks the way you do. These are the opinions of the author.

I will review and compare 3 types of measuring takeoff products:

It is extremely important to note that these are ONLY measuring takeoff programs, NOT estimating programs.

1) Planswift

2) On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software

3) Electronic Plan Takeoff Software

All three products have their strengths, however, Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff are stand-alone products and Electronic Plan Takeoff is actually dynamically integrated live with Microsoft Excel which means that it starts and finishes and saves in Excel. They all integrate with Excel, however, you will have to evaluate your thought process and decide which of the three products work-flow think along the lines of how you think. For instance, what is the first thing you do when you get a set of plans? Typically, you start flipping through the plans to see how involved the project is and what type of work do you see that is attractive for your company. Then when you decide you are going to estimate this job, more often than not, you start like 80% of companies in the world of construction estimating by opening your takeoff master template Excel spreadsheet. You rename your spreadsheet to the new job or project and off you go performing takeoff. This is where the differences are:

In Planswift, you decide what drawing you are on and then you perform the measuring of an item you want to perform takeoff on the plan. Unfortunately, that is not exactly how an estimator thinks. Planswift does give you the ability to add a type of takeoff item on the fly by naming it and then perform takeoff of it; somewhat of a very manual and slow process. They also provide you with the ability of applying a type of assembly to a takeoff to aggregate quantities of items in that assembly. Not quite the way an estimator thinks. It forces you to jump to different screens which slows down the process. Typically, the main start of anyone’s takeoff process, or some may think of it as a checklist approach, is to start with your own spreadsheet of YOUR items. Those items can be material items or can be scoped assembly system items. Either way, by starting with a master spreadsheet say in Excel for example, many estimators think of this as a risk reducer, not to forget things they normally takeoff. Being that Planswift is a stand-alone takeoff program, it typically saves your takeoff images in Planswift instead of your estimate in Excel, if Excel is your estimating system. If you are using Excel, you have to manually save your takeoff measurement numbers in Excel and your takeoff images in Planswift or elsewhere, just not in Excel where the takeoff quantity resides. Again, if you want to integrate with Excel, they force you to either export or import takeoff items from Excel rather than being dynamically integrated live to Excel. They do however have the ability to dump the measured quantity from Planswift into any Excel spreadsheet or Word document. The main purpose or the primary focus of this program is measuring, therefore it does a good job at that function. Most of the other functions require you to jump around different screens, and essentially, you loose your thought of where you are. There are some features that attempt to address the estimating process, however, there are many features that are missing for Planswift to be a full fledged estimating system; it is NOT one. Planswift does integrate with the leading estimating system Sage Timberline, but the integration is weak. Since Timberline’s power is in assembly takeoff and where most estimators reside in Timberline, Planswift does not give the estimator the ability to add quantities of miscellaneous Timberline items or one-time items that need to added on the fly to an assembly while they are in Planswift at the Timberline interview screen, and while being in the measuring phase. Planswift does allow the deleting of assembly generated items as well adjusting assembly item quantities in a different screen. Again, to perform all that, you are forced to jump around to different screens. No assembly is ever perfect in any estimating system since project conditions are always uniquely different, therefore, having to add items to an assembly is extremely important. That adding of items and associated quantities is an absolute requirement any estimator typically has to do during the takeoff measuring and estimating phase; something that Planswift struggles with as related to Timberline Estimating. Planswift does allow the direct send of measurements to Timberline Estimating items and assemblies while in Timberline Estimating, just as you would do with the old digitizer measuring boards. Training, support and maintenance are extra for Planswift. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff is the Grand Daddy of software takeoff products due to the fact that it has been around the longest. On Center recognizes that On-Screen Takeoff is primarily a measuring program. That is why they have a separate estimating program named QuickBid for those who want an estimating program. On Center does not try to trick you into thinking it is an estimating system. In On-Screen Takeoff, you also decide what drawing you are on and then you perform the measuring of the plan. BUT, before you start, you can load a master set styles of things you typically takeoff or measure from your own library. That process seems to be less complicated than that of Planswift. On-Screen Takeoff does give you the ability to add a type of takeoff item on the fly by naming it and then performing takeoff of it; somewhat of a manual and slow process as well. The program does come with many features that are primarily focused on simple measuring to advanced measuring issues all with attention to detail regarding easy navigation for the takeoff process. On Center does a very good job at that. However, there seems to be a disconnect of thought from an Excel spreadsheet items you may use for estimating and/or proposals. The integration to Microsoft Excel is not a dynamic live link, more like an after thought in my opinion. Yes, you can establish links to named styles to cells or ranges in Excel, somewhat rigid. But the question you will have to ask yourself, which will happen more often than not is: What do you do when you need to add things on the fly during takeoff and in an Excel spreadsheet? Again there will be manual associations you will have to establish with Excel which is another major slowdown. You have to manually save your takeoff measurement numbers in Excel and your takeoff images in On-Screen or anywhere you decide, except the takeoff images will not be saved in Excel where the takeoff quantity resides. This type of situation arises when a takeoff program is a stand-alone program. On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff has the best integration with the most widely used estimating system in the USA: Sage Timberline Estimating. It basically mimics the same interview process as you would do with the old digitizer measuring boards. By working directly with Timberline, On-Screen Takeoff allows the estimator to perform takeoff of a Timberline variable question and immediately returns back directly with the takeoff quantity in a Timberline assembly at the variable question. By virtue of this process, On-Screen Takeoff allows the estimator to continue his/her Timberline interview process in Sage Timberline Estimating by reviewing/massaging generated quantities, or adding items in a Timberline assembly as the estimator see fit. That workflow process gives full control to the estimator, good job On Center. Training, support and maintenance are extra for On-Screen Takeoff. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

This next system is ONLY if your estimating system or proposal generator is Microsoft Excel. Electronic Plan Takeoff Software is a plug-in for Excel. You start your spreadsheet, you perform the measuring takeoff, you may even add some more items on the fly all the while you are in the measuring phase in the Electronic Plan Takeoff program. When you are done, even if you added items on the fly, they automatically appear in your Excel spreadsheet. Excel is the control of everything. Your project is started in Excel, your takeoff is saved in Excel, the estimate or proposal is/can be produced there in Excel; one program, one place. Many takeoff programs interface with Excel somehow, but only Electronic Plan Takeoff is live linked with Excel, meaning all your Excel spreadsheet descriptions appear in the measuring takeoff program so you always know where you are in Excel. That is a huge difference in comparison to Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff. You can even change a description of a takeoff item in Electronic Plan Takeoff and it is automatically changed live, in your Excel spreadsheet. When you talk about the estimating and takeoff phase you must keep processes cleans and easy and this program does just that. There is no getting lost in this program. Just like the other reviewed programs above, the central focus of this program is takeoff measuring, and it does a GREAT job at that. The navigation within the program is really simple and easy. It is not made to work with other estimating systems, but there is a version that allows the direct send of measurements to any Microsoft Windows program awaiting a keyboard entry, just as you would do with digitizer measuring boards. There is also a version that works with digitizer boards as well. If you use Microsoft Excel for estimating, or takeoffs, or proposals, then this Electronic Plan Takeoff program for Excel would be your best choice. The integration to Excel is unmatched in Electronic Plan Takeoff compared to Planswift or On-Screen Takeoff. What is quite different in Electronic Plan Takeoff is that training, support, and maintenance are INCLUDED with a purchase, whereas training, support and maintenance are extra for Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff. Moreover, annual support and maintenance for Electronic Plan Takeoff year two and beyond is a low fee per company per year, instead of per license. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

Microsoft and Excel are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. Planswift is the registered trademark of Tech Unlimited, Inc. On-Screen Takeoff and QuickBid are registered trademarks of On Center Software, Inc. Sage Timberline Office, Sage Timberline Estimating are registered trademarks of Sage Software, Inc.

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The Advantages of Having Personal Productivity Software

Personal productivity software is an application that no business should be without. This is because of the simple fact that this piece of software makes a great contribution when it comes to ensuring productivity in the workplace. But if you are not too convinced about the importance of purchasing personal productivity software just yet, well, this is actually normal. A lot of business men do become wary when presented with the notion of purchasing such software because computer software is a bit pricey in the market right now. However, when presented with the many benefits businesses enjoy with these software applications, the activity of convincing businessmen becomes very, very easy to do.

So, why exactly do you need personal productivity software in running your business? First of all, this piece of software can give any type and size business the professional touch it needs. The software comes with applications and programs that make it very easy for you to produce professional looking letterheads, marketing reports, brochures, mailing campaigns, and the like. Even the simple act of developing professional looking paychecks is easily done with the use of such software as well. And this is just one of the minor benefits that come with such software!

When you get the basic package, you actually get a word processor, a spreadsheet application, presentation software, and the like. For a more cost-efficient option, you could consider getting one of those suites that contain a number of these tools. This way, you are sure to get more value for your money. Some examples of these suites include Microsoft Office, Sun Staroffice 8, Microsoft Works, or Corel WordPerfect Office. An interesting fact about Microsoft Works is that it actually comes free with personal computers. Aside from these suites, you can also choose to get supplementary software packages that can make your whole life easier.

One of the popular software packages includes QuickBooks. This choice is popular because it is known to be very efficient in handling and managing inventory and business finances, such as payroll and benefits packages. Now, with all these abilities, you have to be sure to allot a hefty budget for your suite of tool and the additional applications and programs you would be getting. The typical price for suites and the individual applications range from a hundred to five hundred dollars. So, if your PC is meant for more than just doing the regular email and the basics on word processing, then you should consider this option thoroughly.

You may also be worried about the hidden and recurring fees that might come with having personal productivity software installed in your system. Yes, they do come with long term costs, but these are just minimal when you compare them to the benefits you would come to enjoy with the software. An upgrade would occasionally be needed, especially after a few years or so with your own application suite. Plus, your business should be growing in a few years, right? Thus, it would make much sense to avail of this upgrade, to foster improvement for your company in the business setting. Do not worry too much about upgrade expenses because they would definitely be lower than that of the original purchase.

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Schedule Slippage – Root Causes

“The single most important task of a project: setting realistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations based on inaccurate estimates are the single largest cause of software failure.”- Futrell, Shafer

Introduction

With global and competitive market, it is very important to launch a product or service in the market on time, ahead of competitors. Definitely, timely launch depends on on-time-completion of the product development projects. Project planning has lots of challenges to overcome in order to finish the project on time – right from schedule predictability, envisioning future/possible risks and coming up with mitigation plans.

This article talks about some of the challenges, often faced in the Software Product Development industry that causes the schedule slippage.

Schedule slippage: Delay in the project completion from its initial estimated date of completion.

Each project plan will have a planned completion date (NRA, RA), and a bounding box or upper limit in schedule. Nowadays, it is a common practice to have three dates associated with any project plan:

  • Non-Risk Adjusted (NRA) date: Project completion date assuming no hurdles – Ideal conditions.
  • Risk Adjusted (RA) date: Project completion date assuming some risks will come on the way and will need extra time to attend to them.
  • Bounding Box (BB) or upper limit: The upper limit on the project plan before which the project has to be finished under any circumstances – Generally decided by the top management based on product/services roadmap and launch in the market.

Under ideal circumstances, any project is scheduled to complete by NRA date. Considering some risks that may come on the way and would eat some time off the schedule, the project should be over by RA date. If the risks were not envisioned and hence not planned well, then project may get delayed and would complete after RA date. Project completion crossing the RA or upper limit is neither good nor expected out of a well-planned project.

Root Causes

As we always plan for a project to get over before RA date, seldom is the case it happens as expected. There are multiples reasons for schedule slippage, right from improper planning, lack of resources to unplanned requirements and rework that eat away vital time off the planned schedule.

A typical project development process – Each project will have a team (development, testing and other functions) that will work through a process (requirement analysis, schedule estimation, design, implementation and testing) to deliver a product to the customer/end user. Each entity that participate in the project – directly or indirectly affect the schedule.

From the development process, we can identify the items that can cause delay in the execution of the project – for example, misinterpreted or unclear requirement adds up to completion time, unavailability of development tools or resources can prolong the project duration. Various processes like schedule estimation, detailed design and product development if not executed skillfully, may significantly blow up the project cycle.

For better understanding all these possible causes that may result in schedule slippage are categorized .

Let’s have a detailed look at the root causes of schedule slippage category wise.

1) Schedule Estimation: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

For a project to be executed on time, it is very important to have it planned very well. Any mistake in project schedule estimation reflects as delay in the project completion from its deadline. There are several factors that contribute to improper schedule estimation:

· Underestimation of technical complexities: At the start of the project, many of the team members may not have thorough knowledge of technical complexities and hence their estimation would be incorrect. Sometimes it may so happen that the person giving estimates for a particular task is having no idea about the technical challenges involved in carrying out that particular task. You might hear, towards the mid/end of the project life cycle when the task is not finished on time – “Oh, I didn’t know that this feature also requires 5 more tasks to be done!” or “I was thinking this task to be so simple, but I under estimated it!”. · Lack of Design/Big picture: It is important to have a bigger picture / overview of the complete project to understand how a particular module/feature would fit in to complete project. Product or system level design helps in understanding the interfaces among other modules and the required coordination for product assembly and hence, a better insight into the work involved. Often, estimates without focus on detailed design tend to deviate more from the actual time taken for finishing the job. · Integration Testing: While making a project plan, testing also needs to be accommodated in the schedule. At times, the unit testing or testing done by individual contributors on their module is taken into account but not the system level testing. Toward the release, when all the individually tested modules are brought together, a system level or integration testing is a must. Having the time for integration testing not accounted in the overall project schedule will cause delay in the project completion.

· Unplanned dependencies: Project planning is not only about breaking the project into minute tasks and managing them. A well-planned project schedule also needs to consider certain unplanned dependencies. Some of these are:

o People: Optimum utilization of human resources calls for same set of people working in multiple projects. A person may not be available to work for currently planned/assigned project due to extended/unplanned work in another parallel project. Another issue related to people could be unplanned/unexpected attrition that will affect the project plan. Time is also lost in mentoring of new member by a senior (more experienced) person which goes unaccounted if not planned.

o Tools & Equipments: Project can be delayed if team is waiting for release of upgrade or procurement of any vital tool (hardware or software being used in the project) or if the equipments required for development and testing are not available. “We had a 3-months project for validating our existing solution on new product platform using customer DUT (device under test). We had to wait for the DUT for nearly 1.5 months as it got stuck in customs. After getting the DUT, we realized that it’s been damaged partially during transportation. As a result we had to ask for another DUT and whole project took more than 5 months to get finished.” – I am sure that such cases will be quite familiar to many organizations. Other reason for timely unavailability of tools / equipments is that they are shared among various projects to reduce the operating cost. Any unplanned dependency on their usage or wrong assumption about availability of these shared resources would cause delay in the program. Team members might have to work on shifts to optimize the usage of shared resources which can cause reduced work hours and/or productivity loss and results to schedule slippage.

“I was waiting for Matlab license to be released by another person in the team but he left the office without doing so and I lost 3 hours figuring out what to do?” – is it something you faced before?

o Other programs: If multiple programs have deliverable dependencies, then delay in one project will have cascaded effect on other projects, which directly or indirectly depend on its deliverable. “We got delayed because we had to wait for a critical UI component from the framework project team” or “We didn’t plan for bug fixes for a component which was supposed to be delivered defect free for our usage” are the common scenarios for delays in program which are dependent on other program deliverables. Parallel programs may affect the schedule of your program in a different way as well – Sometimes, management changes the priority of the programs running in parallel. If your project is considered as a low priority one then there might be lack of resources assigned to your project that may result in schedule slippage.

· Beta releases: How many times we seek feedback on our product during development? And how often we allocate time for it? It’s important to plan beta releases if we desire to have our product validated by expert users or lighthouse customers during development. Getting feedback from beta customers becomes important especially when their requirements echo that of a mass customer base. Process of giving workable releases to customers, collecting their experience, having their feedback analyzed, and then incorporating in the final product version takes significant time.

· Risk mitigation and plan B: Every project will have some or the other risks. These risks can be of varying severity and probabilities. While making project plan, it is important to treat the risk individually based on their severity and probability of occurrence. If high probable risks with higher severity are not planned with their mitigation plan (or plan B), they will have huge impact on schedule deviation from planned one. As in one of the previous examples quoted, getting a DUT on time for validation was a risk. Had there been a mitigate plan (plan B) like – Validate with other DUT or if DUT is not available here, let one developer travel to customer’s place and finish the validation on time, the schedule slippage would have been avoided.

2) People: Ultimately, projects are executed by people who may not be skilled or talented. Hence, looking for perfection in projects involving human beings may not be a feasible thought. Certain unpredictable and hence unavoidable issues under this category are:

· Poor leadership: Before thinking of project execution, it is project planning that actually would set the platform of success. Execution of the project depends on its team while planning is taken care by the project leader. The project leader is expected to have enough technical know-how to understand the project goals and to the details of the tasks involved. Poor leadership and superficial knowledge of assignments often results in invalid effort estimation and ad hoc task delegation causing stress and possible delay in project execution. People leading the team are also responsible for keeping the team spirit and motivation level upbeat. Poor personal commitment due to lack of motivation results in loss of productivity and may cause schedule to slip. Another reason that adds up to delay in projects is inability of leadership team to track the schedule progress and take the correction action.

· Attrition: If the project duration is large and job market is hot, it may be difficult to retain people in the project till its completion. Attrition may further delay the completion especially if the person leaving the job was in critical path. A person leaving the organization would leave a gap in the project that a new person may not fill immediately, which in turn causes sudden reduction in the task force.

· Learning curve: When ever a new person or team member is included in the project, he or she may require some time to understand the project to keep in pace with other members. Learning curve is needed for new team members, joining the team either due to attrition or due to any specific technical competency requirement. · Context switching: In smaller organization or groups where people work on multiple projects simultaneously, it is important to have some buffer for context switching. A person planned to work in project ‘A’ for two hours after a gap of two weeks, would take more than scheduled time to complete that task. Gap of two weeks and the fact that he or she was involved in other project would require some time for the member to get back to the context of current project. · Global development teams: In an era of globalization and outsourcing, it is common these days to have development team distributed over different geographical regions. Project plan needs to account for different time zones and working culture. You might expect an input for your task on Monday morning your time but it may be Sunday late evening for that person and finally when the input arrives, you might be on your way to home after work.

Sometimes schedule estimation might go completely wrong if you have not understood the work culture of the region your teammate belongs to – “In my previous work, I was given a task to be completed with a heads up that its very critical task and needs immediate attention’. When I asked my project lead how many days/hours I have for it, I had been time for 2 weeks for high priority and ‘immediate-attention’ work.” Definition of ‘urgent’, ‘high priority tasks’ changes with culture and region.

· Communication Issues: People communicate differently. If important issues are not brought to the notice of the team members, or are not escalated on time, the entire project may suffer. Often fear of embarrassment stops team members from reporting issues faced during execution leading to more time being spent on that task that can easily be executed additional help.

3) Customer Involvement: These issues are quite serious if customer or end users of the product are involved in the development phase. Understanding customer’s priorities, defining your expectation from their involvement needs to be clear and in agreement with both the parties.

· Expert user testing: In the beginning of the project, expert user testing cycle needs to be planned. Process of giving builds or releases for testing and collecting their feedback, analyzing and incorporating them in your product takes significant time which, if not planned, can delay your program. · Timely feedback: “I got feedback from customers for features, delivered in development milestone-1, after milestone-5 towards the release. These feedbacks are critical but now I am worried how to incorporate them without affecting the schedule.” It sounds like a common problem. Incorporation of feedback from customers needs to be planned well taking a commitment from the customer. · Product requirement specification review: Having a product requirement review planned and executed will keep you on right track throughout the project. Reviewing the requirement specification will avoid requirement related defects fixing which otherwise would have delayed, the project.

4) Ambiguous Project Requirement: For any project to be initiated, the first thing is to have requirements for it. In the product development life cycle, requirement phase acts like a foundation. Clear requirement or vision for the project navigates the team to success. However, requirements may not be clear at the time of estimation and may result in delay in the project completion. Issues related:

· Evolving specs: If you are making a product based on a standard which is not yet matured or still evolving, you are more prone to have this risk. Frequency changes in the specs will change the requirement for the project during different stages of product development and team will continue to work on something that is not yet evolved. This results in rework that would delay the project if time for dealing with these changes is not accommodated in the schedule. “We developed an algorithm and hence measurement that was based on certain industry standard. Towards the release of the product, the specs changed and our measurement was no more valid. We had to redo the algorithm to reflect the changes in the specs. This caused our product release delayed by 2 months.” · New requirements: Sometimes new requirements are added as the project evolves towards completion. Implementation of new requirements is not planned at the beginning of the project and hence is not accounted in schedule. Adding new feature without revising the schedule may result in delay.

· Untold expectation: Requirements from the customers may be of two types – implicit or explicit. It is important to have the requirements well documented. Implicit requirements needs to be better defined and documented to avoid any confusion towards the end of the project. Customers may not describe their requirements related to system performance, memory issues, user interface quality and usability but they are very keen on providing feedback in those aspects once the product is given for expert user testing. If we are not clear about such requirements, out design might not address them. Addressing them towards the end of the project may call for design changes and extra work that would delay the project.

5) Unplanned Tasks / Reworks: Bounding box for the project is set by higher management and often lack buffer for unplanned task(s). Having more of unplanned task that creep up at different phases of project can cause schedule slippage. The unplanned tasks or rework may arise due to:

· Sustaining work: In smaller organizations, some of the project team may also be responsible for sustaining / customer support of existing products. These unplanned tasks, which come on event basis, related to customer support are always of high priority. Excess or prolonged sustaining work may take resource out of the planned project causing a potential threat for schedule slippage. · Defect fixes: Defects are bad as they degrade the product quality and consume extra time/effort to fix them. It is good to have testing of the intermediate releases of the project to find and fix defects sooner in the development life cycle. If the fixing-cycle for such internal-milestone defects is not planned, then either the project is either going to slip or product is going to be of poorer quality. Poor programming skill of the team, not adapting to modern programming practices and having ad hoc development processes may lead to higher number of defects which would take more time to fix then planned and cause slippage.

· Task spillover from previous milestone: Tasks that are not completed in previous milestone, due to whatever reason (inefficiency, vacation of the team member, resource crunch etc), will have to be completed in the next milestone thereby increasing the load on the team. If adequate buffer is not planned, these tasks spilled from previous milestone over to next, can delay the project. · Requirement change / refinement: Requirement changes during the product development will result in rework of what has been previously done with first version of requirement(s). Addressing changes in the requirements needs extra time and effort and may cause schedule slippage. In some cases, the requirement from customer is misunderstood resulting in wrong system design and implementation. Additional, unplanned time is lost in correcting the design/implementation which causes schedule slippage.

Conclusion

On time delivery is the challenge software development companies are facing globally. To have a complete control over estimated schedule, it is very important to identify the elements in the development cycle that cause schedule slippage. This article uncovers and explains the root causes of delay in programs using examples from real world. Having an insight to the root causes will help the program managers to make good decisions to avoid future schedule slippage.

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Visualwize Chess Training Software: A Review

Chess enthusiasts of all levels are always seeking ways to improve their chess skills, so that they can win at chess games, whether they play professionally or socially.

One of the most effective ways to improve your chess skills is to use a chess visualization software, which enables you to practice and improve your visualization skills. Visualization is one of the most important skills you need to succeed in chess.

A program that is apparently gaining a lot of popularity and is helping many people to improve their chess is Visualwize Chess Training Software.

Let’s address the basic questions on this software.

What is it?

Visualwize is a chess training software that trains your ability to have a clear mental picture of chess moves before you make these moves on the board. This enables you to assess the implications of your moves before you make the actual moves. This therefore enables you to play better at chess, as you will be able to make the right decisions and avoid making some mistakes that would make you lost a game.

This program has 240 visualization training exercises which are designed to develop your visualization skills. It has and more than 1200 moves to visualize. These moves are real moves made by a master player in real chess games. With the software, you can train to visualize up to 8 moves ahead.

The program consists of 4 levels, level 1 being rather easy and level 4 being hard. You can order the level that suits your needs. For those who really want to significantly improve their skills, level 4, the complete program, is recommended.

How does it work – what does the program actually do?

In simple terms, the program shows a chess position from a game between two chess masters, and then, with arrows, it shows the next few moves that have been made in that position by the renowned chess masters. The arrows stop in a position where a tactic, i.e., a combination that wins the game exists.

Unlike other programs and books that use written annotations for the moves, this program uses arrows on the board. This means it reflects a realistic playing scenario, and you don’t have to take your attention and eyes from the board to read written annotations.

This is one major factor that separates this program from others that are available on the Internet today. Rather than building up the skill of moving your eyes between notation and the board, Visualwize trains you in the art of seeing unfolding moves without actually affecting the board.

On the website where the program is offered, there are many informative and short videos that you can watch, which describe how the program works.

Why is it important – what benefits can you get from this program?

It is recommended that chess players wanting to take their chess to the next level use this program because it offers several benefits:

  • You will be able to see more chess moves ahead, before you actually make any move on the board, giving you an opportunity to assess the consequences of every move before you make it.
  • You will avoid making mistakes which can make you lose a game in an instant.
  • You will make the most of your training time since you will be able to easily visualize the notation below chess diagrams.
  • You become an efficient and effective chess player – you won’t need to calculate variations several times over because you will be able to clearly the consequences of your move in your mind, saving you a lot of time.
  • You will make a wise investment that will help you significantly improve your chess – the program is favourably priced at only $30. If you were to hire a chess coach, you would pay a very high fee per hour of the coach’s time to train you.
  • It is convenient – once you purchase the program, you can train at any time of the day or night, as much as you want.

With several books and programs on how to improve chess, available today, Visualwize is considered to be a cut above the rest among many chess enthusiasts.

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Different Types of Computer Repair Services

Our dependency towards technology is increasing day by day. Even a minor problem in the operating system disrupts our life and hampers our work. With the development of new technology, there also comes many technical problems such as virus infections, spyware attacks on the operating system, networks issues, and hardware failures. Therefore, fast and efficient troubleshooters are always needed to fix all your technical problems without disabling your work.

With the indispensable use of computers in our daily lives, we can not imagine encountering an issue that will leave us without our personal computers thus; We seek to have the computer service immediately. But due to the busyness of life, it is not possible for us to go to a computer service centers every time and get the system repaired leaving you days without a computer. Seeing today's need, there are many efficient and fast troubleshooters available online that will solve your problem in a fraction of time. Many of us do not understand need for professional computer repair services and try to solve the system related problem by themselves. Before going to any of the computer repair service sites, it is very important to be aware of the various types of services that are offered by the computer repair service centers:

1. IT services like network installation and configuration (LAN / WAN setup).

2. Virus & spyware removal. Installation of anti-virus software for a proactive approach to external attacks.

3. Hardware repair: Laptop / Mac / PC, printer, scanner, motherboard; CD / DVD ROM installation etc.

4. Problems related to Website development and presentation, graphic designing

5. Firewall and email security setup.

6. Windows OS installation and troubleshooting

7. Data backup and recovery

8. Tutorials to employees for solving small problems in-house

So, These are some of the services offered by the service providers. Before hiring any of the online computer repair services, it is very important to check the various types of services offered by them. So that you do not need to switch to different computer repair services sites for different services. It is also very important to check that there is a team of expert technicians for solving computer related problems individually, as this will help in solving the problem fast and efficiently. It is better to switch to such online computer repair services that you avail with the guarantee of fixing the problem fast else money back. As such, promises will pressurize the technicians to work efficiently and fix the problem quickly.

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What is the Argus Safety Database?

The Argus safety database is a key part of the Argus Safety 3.0.1 pharmacovigilance software system. In a nutshell, pharmacovigilance is defined as the monitoring of any possible adverse effects of both herbal remedies and synthetic drugs as they are used.

The digital database is used to help companies ensure compliance with global regulations regarding pharmacovigilance and related activities. As a comprehensive pharmaceutical software system, it supports pharmacovigilance business processes that take place in both the pre- and post-marketing phases.

The Argus database is hosted in a data center that is ISO-9001-certified, and operates according to the security standards promulgated by FDA guidelines. By managing this data center, a pharmaceutical firm or laboratory may obtain maximum physical data security as well as access to effective data backup and recovery procedures whenever these services are needed.

ACCOVION, the full-service contract research organization that offers pharmacovigilance as a core service, has configured the Argus database with customized and validated rules to expedite safety reporting. This setup enables generated safety reports to be sent to regulatory investigators and central ethics committees.

The system covers a wide range of the most commonly used forms, including the American FDA MedWatch 3500A form for drugs, the VAERS form for vaccines, the CIOMS-I form, and many others utilized in European countries.

The standard setup in use by the Argus safety database system includes coding with current World Health Organization and MedDRA data dictionaries, as well as older versions of these dictionaries and many others to meet user requirements.

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The Leading Gaming PC Cases Are Essential To Help Protect and Power Your Extreme Gaming Hardware

Gaming PC Cases come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From rack mount to ATX tower casing, you can find one that best suits your gaming needs. Many games are played by as many 15-24 users and such games require the power of hardware to control both the graphics and many millions of instructions to the CPU with great speed. Custom Gaming PCs are the current rave with game lovers who strive for a better playing experience, adding more hardware.

With a large variety of casing, it is confusing to choose the right one. A good PC Case for gaming is one that has ample space to add more fans and USB ports. Heating is the main problem that slows down the PC and in some instances can damage it. Looks also matter a lot, an attractive and next-gen look, makes for a better playing experience.

All gaming PC cases come with microphones and headphone sockets, while the more advanced ones have fan controllers. New game players can do with two fans while some want to get additional fans to keep the PC from heating up. More advanced users utilize much of CPU power, and need more cooling.

When you are ready to buy a case, first look at the price options, compare various makes and models and see where you can save money and get the same functionality. The most accommodating case is considered the best. It will allow for more fans, and offers ample space for advanced graphic cards. Check to see, if the case can allow more than 4 fans and has at least two USB ports.

Some cases come with 4 USB ports and have space for up to six fans. If you are an advanced level player, you may want to consider one that has a fan speed controller, so you can monitor the cooling easily. Further up the ladder, there are cases that come with space for as many as 12 hard drives. Such a case, can take any kind of mother board you want to use.

The ATX are more popular these days and are like the industry standard. ATX form-factor allows for better air passage so all components can stay cool. It uses less cable, generates less heat and is more affordable. The expansion slots are easily accessible making it easy for users to add more graphic cards.

Looks wise, a clear panel looks attractive and spices up the computer using LEDs. There are also cases with bright graphics, and a modish look to add to the adventure. It all depends on your game choice, if you like a good thrill considering Gaming PC Cases that will add excitement to game time.

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How To Spot a Fake Jimmy Choo Handbag

  • Label: The Jimmy Choo label is generally a lilac colored metal face fastened to a leather backing, and stitched to the interior of the handbag. Many fakes have the incorrect shade of lilac, either going to light or too dark in the purple spectrum. The label should read in either gold or silver. However, even if the colors are correct, the label may still not be in the clear. Because it often times the font details that are singular to authentic Jimmy Choo that many of fake handbags get wrong, and this is one of the best places to look when trying to identify a phony J. Choo.
  • Font: Always check out the "H" in Choo. On an authentic handbag, the horizontal cross-bar in the H should not be in the center of the letter, the way it is intended to be with regards to most standard fonts. Instead, the Jimmy Choo H should have the cross-bar closer to the top, about 75-80% of the way up the H, if measuring from the bottom of the letter. If the handbag has the correct H, move to the letters "O" in Choo. On an authentic handbag, the O will have a slightly bent look. This means that the "O" will appear as if someone snapped down on the top of the letter, giving the O an oval shape rather than a perfect circle. Spotting a fake Jimmy Choo handbag often times comes down to the subtleties in the font.
  • Hardware: Any screws located on handbag hardware will always be a flat head (-) screw. Jimmy Choo will never use any Philips head (+) screws in any of their handbags.
  • Dustbag: Fake Jimmy Choo handbags will often be accompanied by a dustbag that is an incorrect color or format. An authentic dustbag should have the logo: "JIMMY CHOO," with "LONDON" centered perfectly under the logo. The font should be an embossed gray, while the dustbag itself will be the famous lilac color. Many fakes will have incorrect font colors on the dustbag, as well as the incorrect dustbag color ie the wrong shades of purple etc. Good luck and safe shopping!
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