Build Your Own Tree House – Pros and Cons, Fasteners and Hardware

Tree houses are fun, bonding activities you can do with your friends or family, and can provide a unique and ideal hangout spot surrounded by Mother nature. One of the biggest differences in my opinion, between tree houses and other on-ground add-ons you can build on your property, is the fact that a house up in the trees sways – to varying degrees depending on the height and size of the Tree and branches – and so can add a unique and soothing feel.

There are several prerequisites that must be met before this particular project would be considered feasible for you. The first ones are also the most obvious:

  1. Do you have a suitable tree with your property on which you can construct your tree house? This question may be ambiguous to some, as what kind of tree exactly is considered suitable? Well, this depends largely on the size of the structure in question, as well as the expected load – number of people, furnishings, etc. The larger your tree house is, the larger your tree needs to be.
  2. How are you with heights? Now is not a good time to kid yourself or anyone else if you happen to be abnormally scared of heights! We're all scared of heights to varying degrees, but if you lack the courage or ability to comfortably work at the needed height, this project may not be for you. Granted, it can be built relatively low to the ground as well and still be called a "tree house" – in which case, this may not apply.

Now that we have those out of the way, we can get into the other aspects of building. When compared with a structure on the ground, a tree house may somehow seem like a simpler project due to the fact that some of us have grown up "throwing" little makeshift tree houses up here and there. However, it's important to remember that any halfway decent structure, whether on the ground or up in a tree, requires careful planning and implementation of standard safety code.

Here are some other questions you should ask yourself before concluding the planning stage:

  1. What will I use the tree house for? Depending on your answer, you may want a roof and walls, or you may find it unnecessary. In either case, a rail and / or walls at least a meter high is recommended for safety.
  2. How long do I want it to last? You may think that the answer to this question is obvious, but you should understand that the lifespan of your tree house depends heavily on the materials you use and the quality and number of layers of your protective stain. Tree houses, by virtue of their definition, stand within and under the canopy of the tree in which they are built. Because of this, they are more susceptible to premature rot due to the prolonged shade and humid nature of their environment. The fallen leaves and branches scattered across the deck also serve as decay-accelerators unless they are regularly swept off.

Foundation and Floor-shape

One of the unique beauties of a tree house is the fact that you can simply build around the various branches leaving them exposed within your tree house, enhancing the "natural" atmosphere. As with an on-ground structure, you should start with building your base and floor. You may face complications with the shape of your floor due to the limitations of suitable branches to base off of.

Because of this, there's a possibility you may have to set up for a non-square shape. This may be what you want, or this may be a problem for you. In any case, you should understand that there are some restrictions placed upon you by the particular tree you're working with. All branches used for a foundation should be able to single-handedly carry several hundred pounds, and more if you're expecting higher traffic.

Tree Wood Density and Fastener Quality

Large tree houses that weigh more than the collective weight of their occupants should be carefully designed , as various factors such as the hardness of the tree and fastener quality and design come more into play. Wood will compress where the fasteners connect to the tree to varying degrees based on the hardness of the tree in question, causing a sinking of the tree house.

Professional-grade Tree house Fasteners – Are they Necessary?

There are various tree house fasteners available on the market today specially manufactured for their unique needs. However, the question invariably arises as to how necessary these customized bolts and brackets are in comparison to normal ones found in home centers due to their price. They often cost between one and several hundred dollars each!

The first thing to bear in mind when contemplating the pros and cons of these rather pricey pieces of hardware is that trees are living organizations, and are still growing, moving, and changing shape. Therefore, your tree house and the hardware on which it is mounted must accommodate this movement. Simply bolting the beams into the tree's branches results in a fixed attachment that will force the tree to either pull the screw through the beam or try to grow around the beam.

The first of the two will result in a sudden and dangerous failure , while the second will result in an unhealthy and unnatural growth around the beam, potentially causing disease and decay to set in. Custom bolts and brackets are made with a certain allowance for tree growth, with a section of the bolt that is embedded deep in the tree's heartwood and a large shank that allows axial movement coupled with a female part that is attached to the beam.

So to answer the question of whether these expensive custom parts are necessary, the short answer is yes, and no. Yes, if you lack the know-how to find parts that will accomplish the same purpose as the professional parts do, and no, if you do, and do not require your tree house to last for fifty years. Home centers sell bolts and hardware with large diameters and lengths which can be used, but the entire shank can not be threaded.

The half or so that is embedded into the tree must be threaded, but the reminder that acts as the cushion to compensate for tree-growth must be smooth. You also need a female piece that fits around the smooth shank that has a bracket that can be screwed into your beam. This female bracket then has the freedom to slide along the axis of the smooth bolt shank as the tree grows in girth. All parts should be stainless steel as well – others may corrode to failure.

Obviously, the big tree house building companies would disagree with the above opinion, and the ideal is to buy these parts. I'm just offering an alternative for those who do not have a large budget but still want to construct a safe and environmentally-friendly tree house. There is also a chance you will not be able to find hardware that meets the criteria, leaving you with no other choice.

The professional criterion when it comes to fastening your tree house to your tree seems to be "perch, do not pin". I agree whole-heartedly with this principle and any alternative I save above should not contradict this. But not everyone looking to build a tree house is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars, so, your budget is a primary factor in determining the quality as well as what kind you would build.

In any case, it should be a safe and fun place to accommodate whatever activities you envision. Taking into consideration the damage inflicted on the tree as well as future complications that may arrise such as those mentioned above when planning, is simply the responsible and consider course of action.

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7 Benefits of the Doctor and Clinic Management System Software

A cloud-based clinic management system addresses your hospital management related woes. It brings simplicity to the patient appointments, their treatment, medical billing and payments and services that take care of other requirements of the hospital.

Advantages of a Cloud Compliant Software

A software that leverages the cloud technologies in full, offers flexibility, cost saving, fast service, ease of accessibility and sustainability.

Flexibility

Even small hospitals can harness the power of this type of software. As the business grows, the software automatically scales itself to the hospital’s increasing needs without the user having to provide for it. The software is easy use, at its fullest, right from the first day.

Cost Saving

Choosing to use clinic management software located on the cloud platform is cost effective for the hospitals. It is an attractive choice for the small as well as big hospital setups.

It requires no expenditure on hardware, equipments and trained IT staff. These are the resources that a hospital, supporting an in-house IT setup must utilize. They are costly.

This highly optimized software is maintained, updated and configured in the cloud by the skilled IT experts. The users are, thus, spared from the burden. It leads to cost saving. Unhindered, the hospital staff stays focused on the core functions of the hospital.

Harness it From Anywhere at Anytime

The hospital administrator acts as the super-user of the software. He or she, then, grant access permissions to the others. The managers, doctors and others can then access the necessary data stored in the cloud, from anywhere at anytime.

They can use smartphones, tablets, phablets, laptops, notebooks and desktops over the internet for the purpose.

Fast Service

This software gives fast, easy and simple solutions for the hospitals in managing their day-to-day activities. It helps in streamlining patient management, inventory management, employees’ and doctors’ attendance, online report generation and other tasks.

Sustainability

For hospitals using this software, it is easy to recover from an on-site disaster. Their data is stored in the cloud, where it remains safe. It is repeatedly backed up. They need to simply access it to get their system online.

Features of the Cloud Based Clinic Management System

1. Patient management: Maintains records of the patients that include personal details, visits to the hospitals, allergy related data, medication, etc.

2. Appointments and schedule management: Determines the availability of the doctors before scheduling appointments. Uses powerful search engine to set up an appointment for the patient. The software assists the staff in knowing the availability of the beds for the patient’s hospital stay.

3. Alerts: Sends alerts and reminders using SMSs and Emails. It notifies the patients about the future appointments and vaccination schedules.

4. Purchase and inventory management: Keeps track of the drugs, equipments, instruments and other hospital items in the stock. Generate expiry alerts for the drugs in stock. Assists in creating a purchase list.

5. Records: Stores all the electronic medical records of the patients and the data related to the hospital, in a central place. It is available to the authorized persons from anywhere, at any time. Doctors can use the patient data to conduct medical research.

6. Payment Processing: Assists the hospital’s accounting department in, accurate medical billing to the patient. Provides connectivity to the top accounting software and eases the tasks of accountants.

7. Lead Generation: It assists the business managers employed by the hospitals in lead generation and tracking.

It is easy to start using a cloud-based clinic management system software. It needs no installation and one can access and start using it over the internet, in a jiffy.

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Medical Coding History – From Paper to Medial Coding Software

If we define medical coding as the assignment of alphanumerical characters to diagnoses, diseases, and treatments, then medical coding has been traced back to the 1600s in England with the London Bills of Mortality. A more standardized system of coding was developed for classifying death at the tail end of the 19th century. In 1893, Jacque Bertillon, a statistician, created the Bertillon Classification of Causes of Death, a system which was eventually adopted by 26 countries at the beginning of the 20th century. Shortly after the Bertillon Classification system was implemented, people began discussing the possibility of expanding the system beyond mortality as a way of tracking diseases.

By the middle of the 20th century, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a goal of a single global classification system for disease and mortality, entitled the International Classification of Diseases, Injuries, and Causes of Death (ICD). This classification system is updated every 10 years. The latest revision, ICD-10, is scheduled for adoption in the United States in 2013.

What started out as a small set of medical codes has evolved into a complex system that was initially standardized by the American Medical Association back in 1966 with current procedure codes (CPT) codes that are updated annually.

In the late 1970s, the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) was developed based on CPT. HCPCS has three levels of codes: Level One is the original CPT system. Level Two codes are alphanumeric and include non-physician services such as ambulances and other transportation as well as patient devices such as prosthetic devices. Level Three codes were developed as local codes, and were discontinued in 2003 in order to keep all codes relevant worldwide.

Recently, medical coding systems have been expanded to include other medical specialties. For example, there are coding systems related to disabilities, the dental field, prescription drugs, and mental health.

As the coding systems have become more complex and diverse, the need for training of medical coders has grown exponentially. Private training schools and public colleges throughout the country have developed certification programs. In order to be awarded a certificate, students must obtain a two-year degree from an accredited medical coding school and pass an exam given by the AHIMA.

Over the past 20 years, many coding processes have shifted from a paper-based system to a computer-based system using medical coding software and medical billing software. Many companies sell complete medical software-based coding solutions and myriad of products for specific medical disciplines, such as products that are specifically tailored to skilled nursing facilities, physicians, hospitals, surgery, cardiology, and more.

As medical facilities and professionals begin preparing for the conversion to ICD-10 in 2013, the need for more sophisticated medical coding software solutions and qualified medical coders will continue to grow.

CPT is a registered trademark of the American Medical Association.

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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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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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How to Change the MPI Node Address For a Siemens S7-300 PLC

I have seven Siemens S7-300 PLCs connected together using the MPI (Multi Point Interface) interface. The Siemens MPI protocol is used by Siemens PLCs to communicate with external devices. I want to rename each of the seven PLCs. Here are the steps to accomplish that task.

First, connect your MPI cable to the first PLC. I will be connecting my laptop to each PLC individually. Power up the PLC and open Simatic Manager. The "New Project" Wizard window will open. Just click Cancel to close the window. Now click the Accessible Nodes icon on the toolbar. A window will open showing the identification of the PLC you are connected to. My window is showing MPI = 2 (directly). Make a note of this address and close the window.

Next we need to download a hardware configuration to the PLC. This is where we will rename the PLC node address. There are probably a couple of different ways to do this – following is how I accomplish this. All seven of my PLCs are the same model; Therefore, I am using the same hardware configuration. For the obvious reasons, I want to give each a different MPI node address. I have a project file that contains all seven of my PLC programs and one hardware configuration file. I open the one hardware configuration file, and then double click Hardware in the right hand window. This will open the HW Configuration window. In this window you should see your PLC with its MPI address given.

Remember when we clicked the Accessible Nodes icon and saw MPI = 2 (directly)? My Hardware Configuration Window is showing a MPI address of 7. Place your mouse cursor on the 7 and double click. Your CPU Properties window will open. It should open to the General tab. Look down and you will see Interface Type MPI with an address of 7. Click Properties and the MPI interface Properties window will open. Using the pull down menu, choose your MPI node address and make sure the MPI (1) 187.5kbps is highlighted and click OK. You are now back on the CPU Properties window where you will see your address has changed. Click OK and you will go back to the Hard Ware window where you can verify your MPI node address has changed.

You will now click the Save and Compile icon and then click the download icon. The Select Target Module window will open. Click OK and the Select Node Address window will open. Here you will see the MPI node address you assigned earlier. You will need to click the View button right below this. You will see the current node address appear, this should be the same as what you saw earlier when you clicked the Accessible Nodes icon. Simply click on this number and you will see it appear in the MPI address slot under the Enter connection to target station. Click OK and the Download to Module window will open. Click OK and the Stop Target Modules window will open. Click OK and the "Do you want to start the module?" Window will open. Click Yes.

Now go back to the SIMATIC Manager window and click the accessible nodes icon. You will see your new MPI node address. You can see this same article with pictures at http://www.morerobototics.com .

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The 4 Elements That Makes Up A Personal Computer System

There are 4 elements that make up a personal computer system: the user, software, hardware and the electricity all working together for the whole system. Each of these elements is essential to the system itself.

The user is the person's who perform the task using the computer system. The nature of the task depends upon the application program or software that is needed to perform the task. The software that the user used requires certain hardware components to function properly.

The hardwares of the personal computer system are made up of its equipment that are usually connected (the computer, monitor, printer and so on). It is defined as hardwares because you can physically touch these components. The programs are called softwares since their function can only be used when the computer is turn ON. Software is a set of coded instructions that the computer uses in order to carry out the user's tasks.

The user can only use the computer when it is turned ON. Without any electrical power to run through the personal computer system, it will not function. The ability of the personal computer system to control its components is through a series of on / off signals.

Here is how it works, when a user tries to type a document or a letter using his / her personal computer. The first thing the user do is to turn ON the power for the computer. Choosing a Word Processor software in order to write the document. The user uses the hardware such as the keyboard to write the content of the document; The typed document is then displayed onto the monitor screen. After the user finished writing his / her document. The user will use the software to instruct the printer to print the document. The software works together with the hardware components (the keyboard, monitor and printer) to accomplish the task that the user requested.

All of the four elements: the electrical power, hardware, software and the user work together to make up a personal computer system.

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How to Watch Satellite TV Online Without Any Satellite Dish

Anyone can watch satellite TV online without any satellite dish system nowdays. In case you do not know, this article would show you one time-tested and another new revolutionary way to watch satellite TV on the internet without having to set up a satellite dish.

Many of the older generation grew up in an era of satellite dishes, especially for those who live in the rural areas where cable do not exist. The dishes are transmitters and together with receivers are conduits for TV signals to be displayed as visual images and pictures on our TV screens. However, they are not always pleasant. Set up can be tough and definitely not for those who are not good with their hands or have poor technical skills. Satellite dishes have grown smaller in recent years but they used to be larger than 6 foot monsters in earlier days. If that irks you, you would be relieved to know that you can watch satellite TV online just like many others without satellite dish system.

What are the hardware and PC requirements you need to set up your 'satellite-dish less' PC satellite online TV?

1. A Good PCTV Card

A PCTV card can be installed onto your computer to make your computer work like a satellite television set. Such cards come in the form of internal or external hardware. If you are familiar with the inside of a computer, then an internal card could be a good choice since they tend to be cheaper and more affordable. However, do not bother yourself when you find it too troublesome to fix it internally because there are external cards that work more like plug-and-play gadgets. They cost more and can set you back easily by a few hundreds. As long as your PC has a spare USB port, this option to watch satellite TV online is open to you.

2. PC Requirements

I would suggest you check your systems configuration before you start shopping for a PCTV card. Most cards require a minimum Pentium 3 333MHz system to run well but remember to note down the specifications like RAM, hard disk space, Operating System, etc before you head to the stores.

3. Ready Internet Connection

PCTV cards work well with both dial-up and broadband connections. However, I have a word of advice here. Dial-up transmission runs like a snail and is a really serious party spoiler. You can end up more frustrated than glad that you are watching the program. Go for broadband connection if you can afford to.

Okay, now that we have discussed about the older commonly accepted method to watch satellite TV online, we will look at another new revolutionary technique. This requires the usage of PC satellite TV software which can be downloaded easily. The setup is simple and all it takes is downloading the software and clicking a few buttons before you are ready to watch satellite TV online from more than 3000 channels. Awesome is not it?

For more information on this PC satellite TV software, do a read up at my satellite TV blog.

This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entity in any ezine, newsletter, blog or website. The author's name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every reproduction.

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Corel DRAW – Best Desktop Publishing Software

Corel DRAW is a supreme supplier of graphics software, including the popular Corel DRAW program. Corel DRAW has tools that allow the user to both create and edit images. The type of desktop publishing tools that you use will depend on the type of project. For more information and assistance, use the Corel website.

Corel DRAW is the best Desktop publishing software that empowers users to create illustrations containing graphics, text and photographs. Corel has an extensive range of tools which enable the user to edit any shape or character with ease and precision, fit text to curves and create custom color separations. It is developed and marketed by Corporation of Ottawa. This tool can open files: Adobe PageMaker, Microsoft Publisher and Word, and other programs can print documents to Adobe PDF using the Writer printer driver, which such software can then open and edit every aspect of the original layout and design.

Several innovations to vector-based illustration originated with Corel: a node-edit tool that operates differently on different objects, fit text-to-path, stroke-before-fill, quick fill/stroke color selection palettes, perspective projections, mesh fills and complex gradient fills.

One of this software’s many strengths is the huge range of over 1,000 fonts that it comes with, provided in both TrueType and Postscript Type 1 format. Corel differentiates itself from its opponent in a number of ways: The first is its positioning as a graphics suite, rather than just a vector graphics program. A full range of editing tools allow the user to adjust contrast, color balance, change the format from RGB to CMYK, add special effects such as vignettes and special borders to bitmaps. Bitmaps can also be edited more extensively using Corel PhotoPaint, opening the bitmap directly from Corel and returning to the program after saving. It also allows a laser to cut out any drawings.

Expert believed it was the first of the Windows-based drawing programs and has built on this early start to become far-and-away the dominant drawing package on the PC. Its biggest strength – and its biggest potential limitation – is its all-encompassing approach. In the past this has led to accusations of unfocused bloating, but with version 7.0 Corel has addressed the criticisms with a far tighter and better rationalized program. Even so, there’s a huge range of functionality to cover.

Corel DRAW Download was originally developed for Microsoft Windows and currently runs on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. The current version, X5, was released on 23 February 2010.

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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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