Randy and Tyler posted what was becoming clear (by the lack of an already existing beta): our estimated release date for X-Plane 10 was incorrect. Software project delays are pretty common, and often when a third party add-on is delayed, the community jumps to speculate about "what's going on" inside the project and tries to infer whether the delay is an indication of serious problems.
I'd like to try to reframe the issue of delays in terms of an analogy. You ask me: how fast can you run a mile? I tell you "4 minutes and 15 seconds". I then run a mile and you time me. My time: 6 minutes, 10 seconds.* What can we learn from this episode? I think we can learn two things:
- For a computer programmer, I am surprisingly fast - a six minute mile isn't to be sneezed at when you spend your days sitting on your ass in front of a monitor drinking coffee.
- My ability to predict my own speed is not very good. I was pretty naive to think I could run a 4 minute mile - that's what world class athletes run. My estimate was off by a fairly big error margin.
The same applies to X-Plane; we missed our original projected ship date because the estimation of when we would be done was not a very good estimate. This isn't good for a few reasons:
- It creates uncertainty for third parties as to when a platform will change.
- It makes it difficult for marketing to properly plan a roll-out.
- It makes it difficult to balance the value of more features vs. an earlier release date (since we don't know how much "time" we are trading for "features" if the time estimates are wrong).
When looking at a project that will be delayed (because the original schedule was wrong) there's a few things you can do:
- Add more people. This is quite often the wrong thing to do - please read the Mythical Man Month to understand why. Once your team is the right size, adding more warm bodies usually makes schedule delays worse and hurts efficiency.
- Remove features. This is the only real way to bring in a ship date.
- Move the date back.
Option 2, cutting scope is painful and hard. Sometimes it is the right thing to do. In the case of X-Plane, however, we have the luxury to move the date back. With that in mind, we're trying as hard as we can to keep feature-creep minimal and finish what we've already bit off, so we can get the release done and out the door.
* My mile time is not 6 minutes, 10 seconds...I would be astounded, and quite possibly in the ER if I could run that fast for any sustained amount of time.