Perils of Project Planning

For my contribution to the Woodman Diary, which is the project we are creating for Digital Scholarly Editing, I took on the role of Project Manager.  I thought I would take a few moments to discuss something that is often discussed but overlooked in any software project:  project planning.

What is Project Planning?

Project Planning, as defined by Rouse, is “a discipline for stating how to complete a project within a certain timeframe, usually with defined stages, and with designated resources.” [1] The three components—scope, schedule, and resources—mentioned by Rouse are often referred to as the “Scope Triangle” or “Triple Constraint”. The notion of the “Scope Triangle” dictates that the scope, schedule and resources form three sides of a triangle.  In the “Scope Triangle”, one of these resources is always fixed, and the other two, while flexible, move in proportion to the other.[2] For example, if schedule is fixed—meaning the delivery date of the project cannot be changed—then if additional scope (new features) are added, more resources (also sometimes referred to as budget) must be added to accommodate the increase in scope. The “Scope Triangle” is used to ensure both the stability and the overall quality the project and its deliverables.  After all, one cannot logically assume that a project, which was originally stated to take x number of months with y number of features given a budget of z, can still launch at the same time if the budget is suddenly reduced or if new features are added.

Consider this analogy. You decide to build a new home, and so you hire a company to do the work.  You agree with the company that they will build a 1,000 square foot home in 6 months for €100,000. Three months into the project, you decide 1,000 square feet isn’t big enough, and you wish to add another 500 square feet to the home.  Certainly you would expect it to cost more—and quite possibly take longer—than what was originally agreed to. However, for some reason, this notion often flies out the window with regard to software projects. Thus project managers are often brought in to ensure the “Scope Triangle” is adhered to, and the project remains on track with a high level of quality.

Perils & Pitfalls

Most think of project planning as creating Gantt charts and putting dates on deliverables. And while that is certainly a component, it is far from the only aspect. Below, I’ve listed some of the most common mistakes that can be made in regards to project planning:

  1. Thinking Too Small – project managers need to think big, and I don’t mean in regard to scope.  The biggest mistake that can happen while project planning is not considering all of the possible avenues. What if we lose some of our resources due to illness or vacations? What if the server blows up, and we need to buy a new one? What if some feature we really like isn’t technically feasible? All possible avenues need to be explored during the planning phase.  There is no scenario too far-fetched.
  2. Making Assumptions – often, we make assumptions about the projects we are working on. “The computer centre will set up that server for us.”  “That feature is very easy to implement—I’ve seen it done before.” “That software is easy to customise.” The list of examples is endless. But what if the computer centre is unable to set up the server due to their own time or resource constraints? What is the software isn’t so easy to customise or is restricted due to licensing constraints? What if that feature seen elsewhere took months to build and isn’t distributed and thus must be recreated? All of these items can have a significant impact on a project and cause it to derail.  Therefore, it is important to identify assumptions early on and plan accordingly.  Making assumptions is not necessarily a bad thing, but failing to identify them is a major problem.  If they aren’t identified, then contingency plans cannot be created.
  3. Failing to Identify Risks – every project has risks.  Some are obvious: loss of resources due to illness, scope creep (the subtle addition of new features that, while individually seem small, cumulatively add considerable scope to a project), scheduling constraints, etc.  Every project, however, has risks that are unique to the project itself.  For example, while planning for the Woodman Diary, we identified a risk regarding our software implementation.  At the time, we had yet to choose a software package for the diary, so there was a risk that the package we chose could have an impact on our schedule, as it could potentially be more difficult to implement that we assumed (also, for further emphasis, see above item regarding assumptions). Identifying risks early on allows the team to research mitigation tactics.  In fact, not only should every risk be documented, but a mitigation plan should also be created for each risk in order to identify how likely the risk is, what its impact on the project overall could be, and how the risk will be mitigated. By doing so, the team reduces the potential number of surprises that could arise during implementation.  The fewer surprises, the smoother the implementation.
  4. Forgetting the Goal – every software project has a sense of excitement about it.  The team is creating something new and many participants want to innovate or make something that has that “wow” factor.  Thus, it’s easy to get caught up in the “glitz and glamour” and forget about the goal. Whenever the team is considering adding a new feature or changing an already defined feature, the first question that should be asked is: does this change bring us closer to accomplishing the goal of the project? If the answer is “no”, then the feature should be scrapped.  It doesn’t matter how “neat” the feature might be; if it doesn’t serve the goal of the project, the feature is ultimately a distraction.  Of course, if the team answers that question with “What is the goal?”, then a much bigger problem exists.  Before project planning even begins, a goal must be clearly set out and communicated to—and agreed on by—the team.

Conclusion

Project planning is a vital process of any endeavour, especially when creating or implementing software (and ultimately, every digital scholarly edition is, at its heart, a software project).  It should never be ignored, lest the project fall to chaos and disarray. That said, it is important to remember that it is about more than just marking down due dates next to features and holding the project team to a schedule.  Project planning is also about seeing the big picture and knowing how to respond to various situations that may arise that were unexpected.  Project planning is much like warfare—considering all the various angles and developing strategies for dealing with the enemy. However, in the case of project planning, the enemy is often ourselves and our own failures to look ahead.

References

[1] Rouse, Margaret. “What is project planning?“. Whatis.com. March 2007. Web. 19 April 2015.
[2] Jenkins, Nick. “A Project Management Primer: Basic Principles – Scope Triangle“. ProjectSmart.co.uk. n.d. Web. 19 April 2015.

Further Reading

Haughey, Duncan. “Project Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide”. ProjectSmart.co.uk. n.d. Web.
Kerzner, Harold R. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, 11th Edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons. 2013. Print.
Project Management Institute. “The Project Management Office: Aligning Strategy and Implementation“. PMI.org. April 2014. Web.
– – -. “The Value of Project Management. PMI.org. 2010. Web.
Sylvie, George, Jan LeBlanc Wicks, C. Ann Hollifield, Stephen Lacy, and Ardyth Broadrick Sohn. Media Management: A Casebook Approach. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. 2009. Print.

Explorations in Photogrammetry – Part 5

In the 5th and final part of my series on photogrammetry, I will discuss the process of 3D printing. For those unfamiliar with the process, 3D printing involves taking a digital object stored in a specific file format and creating a three-dimensional, solid object. Typically, the object is “printed” using some kind of plastic, although more expensive printers can utilise metal alloys.[1] The process involves creating a StereoLithography file (or STL for short) that contains a 3D model. This file can then be sent to a 3D printer and, after several hours or even days depending on the size and complexity of the object, a real world representation of the digital object can be seen.

Types of 3D Printing

There are a few different types of 3D printing:[2]

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – utilises a high powered laser to super heat and fuse together tiny particles of glass, plastic, or ceramic in order to create a 3D object.[3] Objects created with an SLS printer typically require little post processing, such as sanding or other alterations.  Also, because SLS doesn’t require the use of support structures for the object while it is being printed, it is typically faster than FDM and SLA.
  • Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM) – creates objects by heating thermoplastics and constructing the object layer by layer.[4]  When the object is complex, the 3D printer will build scaffolding to support the structure while it is being printed (this scaffolding can then be broken off or dissolved in detergent later).  It typically supports more complex geometries and cavities than SLA or SLS.
  • Stereolithography (SLA) – like FDM, SLA builds a 3D object layer by layer.  However, the difference with SLA is that the layer is built in a liquid polymer that is then hardened by a laser (as opposed to using heated thermoplastics such as FDM).[5] Like FDM, SLA also utilises support structures while printing the object, which are then cut away once the process is complete.

3D Printing Services

A number of different 3D printing services are available.  One of the most common providers is Shapeways. While working on my models and googling for solutions with regards to questions I had about tools within the software packages, I found a number of references to Shapeways for 3D printing. Shapeways is a type of retail market that allows users to sign up as “sellers”.  They can then submit their 3D models, choose their material and have it printed. The cost varies based on the material selected.  Further, the size of the object that can be printed is also limited by material (some materials allow you to print larger items at an increased cost). You can then feature your items in the Shapeways marketplace for purchase.

Sculpteo is another 3D printing service and is quite similar to Shapeways.  With Sculpteo, however, you can opt to not sell your items in their marketplace and simply use them as a 3D printing service. Sculpteo offers a number of different materials (which influence the cost of the printing) and provide specifications for each type of material that include minimum sizes and specifications for a model should that material be selected.

iMaterialise is another common 3D printing service. Unlike Sculpteo and Shapeways, iMaterialise also offers student discounts which is certainly an incentive for cash-strapped students such as myself. They offer 17 different materials along with a number of finishes.  Additionally, they also offer a comparison tool where a user can compare the various types of materials on offer and see the differences between them.  Their process is very straightforward, and they provide a considerable amount of information in an easy-to-consume format.

My Selection

As for my selection, I chose to use the 3D printer on campus, which is housed at the library.  This choice was made strictly for sake of convenience.  I was able to provide my lecturer with the 3D object.  He then uploaded the file to the 3D printer and set the appropriate sizes.  The cost of this effort was covered by my department, so I had no out of pocket expense.

However, had the option of the Library printing been unavailable, I most likely would have chosen iMaterialise as my 3D printer.  While the student discount was certainly a mark in their favour, the overriding reason was the presentation of information.  As mentioned above, all of the information regarding the different materials was easily presented, and I really liked the comparison tool, which allowed me to fully understand the differences between the different types of materials.  The easy to find specification information for each material provided me with all of the information I needed for my model to ensure the process would happen smoothly.

Conclusion

3D printing is certainly an emerging technology and is being leveraged today more than ever.  It is useful in the rapid production of prototypes and also can provide for unique marketing and economic opportunities for small businesses (as evidenced by the marketplaces popularised on Shapeways and Sculpteo). For the purposes of my explorations in photogrammetry, 3D printing offers a way for me to reflect on my 3D model in a real, tangible way (as opposed to only viewing it on screen).  I can use the 3D printed version and compare it to the real version and see where I might make improvements in the future.

3D printed objects can also provide value within the sphere of Cultural Heritage.  By creating a 3D printed object of an ancient piece of pottery, we can allow for the general public to closely examine the object without risk of damaging something that is irreplaceable.  In this same regard, 3D objects can also enhance museum or cultural heritage exhibitions by creating more immersive experiences. These types of experiences should continue to be explored and leveraged whenever possible as they raise awareness of Cultural Heritage and the Humanities as a whole.

References

[1]Casting aluminum parts directly from 3D printed PLA parts“. 3ders.org. 25 Sept 2012. Web. 3 April 2015.

[2]What Is 3D Printing“. 3dprinting.com. Web. 3 April 2015.

[3] Palermo, Elizabeth. “What is Selective Laser Sintering“. Livescience.com. 13 August 2013. Web. 3 April 2015.

[4]FDM Technology: 3D print durable parts with real thermoplastic“. Stratasys.com. Web. 3 April 2015.

[5]Stereoligthography“. Materialise.com. Web. 3 April 2015.

Explorations in Photogrammetry – Part 4

For part 4 of my series on photogrammetry, I will discuss the creation of a 3D model of the sepulchre, the object I’ve chosen for the second part of my 3D recording assignment (for more information regarding the sepulchre and the process of taking photos of the sepulchre itself, see Explorations in Photogrammetry – Part 3). As with the bowl from the National Museum of Ireland (see Part 1 and Part 2 of Explorations in Photogrammetry), the construction of the object utilised Agisoft’s Photoscan Pro and the use of Adobe Photoshop.

Creating the 3D Model

The process of editing the pictures in photoshop was no different than it was for the bowl from the National Museum. As I covered this in Part 2 of my blog series, I will simply refer you to that post for more information regarding the Photoshop process.

The creation of the 3D model in Photoscan was somewhat different this time.  The initial process was still the same as it was for the bowl.  I imported the 178 photos into Photoscan and used the programme’s image quality assessment tool to determine the quality of the images.  To my surprise, I found the quality of the images to be considerably higher:

Number of Images Quality % of Total
4 .50 – .59 2%
174 .60 and above 98%

However, I knew from my experiences while taking the photos that there would be some photos that would need to be manually filtered out.  These were primarily photos were the sun was at the wrong angle and caused bright spots to appear in the photo or where the the photos were so bright as to look overexposed.  This led to a further 37 images being filtered out of the result set.

I then began to apply a mask to each photo.  However, this process proved to be much more involved than with the bowl. When applying the mask to the photos of the bowl,  I was able to use the magic wand tool to select the background (which was a uniform colour), and with a few simple clicks—and a reasonably high success rate—filter out everything but the bowl object itself. The photos of the sepulchre proved much more difficult.

Due to the lack of uniformity in the background (which contained grass, trees, and other objects in the cemetery), I was unable to utilise the magic wand tool. Thus, I found I had to draw the mask around each view of the sepulchre in every picture individually, using the lasso tool. This was not only time consuming but oftentimes difficult to do precisely, as objects from the background would occasionally blend into the sepulchre, making it difficult to determine where the sepulchre began and other objects ended.

Once I finished the masking, I then began to run the images through the standard processing workflow in Photoscan Pro. For some reason, however, these images were taking much longer to process. While aligning the photos took about an hour and a half (which was to be expected), building the dense point cloud proved to be a challenge. I initially kicked off this process on my Sony Vaio. This is a relatively powerful laptop with 8GB of RAM, a dedicated video card, and an Intel i7 1.80GHz chip. After running for almost 40 hours and being only 40% complete with the creation of the point cloud, I decided to cancel the operation and switch to my MacBook Pro, which has 16GB of RAM and a 2.3GHz Intel i7 chip. As of the writing of this post, the process to build the dense point cloud has been running for 17 hours and is approximately 50% complete.

When I saw the amount of time it was taking to process this model, I decided to try to utilise another method. Rather than applying a mask to every photo and then building the dense point cloud based on this mask, I decided to simply crop out areas of the photo that simply didn’t belong (such as a few photos where I managed to capture my book bag or another person visiting the cemetery). Then I simply aligned the photos utilising Photoscan Pro’s built-in alignment tool. From there I manually cut out the extraneous information the software pulled in and created a dense point cloud. I then continued to manually remove the points I did not wish the application to include in the final model (such as some of the surrounding objects). From there I was able to build a mesh and provide textures to create a model. This method was much less time consuming as I didn’t need to apply the individual mask to each photo. The time to process all of the photos to build the dense point cloud was about 20 hours—still a very intensive process but much better than the time it took to process the photos utilising the mask.

Assessment

Overall, I am very happy with the model itself.  It turned out rather well given the lighting conditions and difficulties I had with background objects and processing.  As learning outcomes, I would make note of the following:

  1. Try to take the pictures on an overcast day.  While this is not always within your realm of control, pictures taken when the sun is hidden behind a cloud tend to be easier to process, especially since they do not have shadows.
  2. Consider your environment.  One thing I did not take into consideration was the surrounding environment.  Had I thought of it, I might have taken some old sheets to drape over some of the surrounding objects.  This would have made applying the masks easier.
  3. Don’t always rely on the creation of masks.  For this object, I found the model that did not rely on masks but rather required me to manually edit the point cloud to be much easier to create. With this type of object, given the background items, I highly recommend this approach.

Final Model

As I mentioned earlier, the model utilising the mask approach is still processing. Once it finishes, I may post it here as an update. However, the model that I created without the use of masks turned out rather well. You can view it below.

Model Created Without the Use of Masks

Coming Up Next…

In my final post, I will discuss the process of 3D printing. I will evaluate available 3D printing services and discuss my chosen selection.

Explorations in Photogrammetry – Part 3

In part 3 of my photogrammetry series, I will discuss the second aspect of the photogrammetry assignment: using an outdoor object.  While the mechanics of this aspect of the assignment were similar to that of the first part (see Explorations in Photogrammetry – Part 1 and Part 2 for more information), this part of the assignment presented unique challenges.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, while working at the National Museum of Ireland, I was working in a controlled environment.  The object was small and placed on a rotating table.  The camera itself was on a stationary tripod. And most importantly, we utilised artificial light and a lightbox to ensure proper and consistent lighting.  I had none of these luxuries for the second aspect of this assignment.

For the second part of the assignment, I was tasked with creating a 3D model, with the subject of the model being something outdoors—the challenge being the lack of a controlled environment, especially in regards to lighting conditions.  I chose a sepulchre as my subject, one of the many objects in the cemetery behind St. Patrick’s College on South Campus here at Maynooth University.  The cemetery itself is rather small and houses mainly priests and nuns who have served St. Patrick’s College (although supposedly there are 2 unmarked graves of students who took their own lives and whose deaths have entered into folklore regarding the “Ghost Room” on campus[1]). The cemetery has a number of interesting markers, sepulchres and a crypt. The sepulchre I chose was that of Rev. Jacobi Hughes who, according to the inscription, served as Dean of St. Patrick’s College for 15 years. I found the sepulchre architecturally interesting with a number of interesting angles and faces, which is why I chose it as my subject piece.

Taking the Photos

The process of taking the photos of the object was rather different than it was for the photos taken at the National Museum.  First, I had to be very aware of any shadows being cast—not just of shadows cast by the object and any surrounding objects, but also of shadows cast by myself.  Too many shadows would make it difficult for the software to accurately compile a point cloud.

Ideally, it is considered best to take photos on a cloudy day.  Given I am in Ireland, one would think this wouldn’t be a difficult task; however it would seem the weather was not my friend, and the sun decided to shine high and bright the entire time I was attempting to take pictures.  This meant I had to be very careful with how I positioned myself while taking the pictures.  Due to the size of the object, I had to move around the object in order to capture it from all of the requisite angles (as opposed to the bowl at the National Museum which sat on a turntable that I could then rotate).  As such, I often found myself having to reposition the view finder on the camera and hold the camera at odd angles in order to ensure my shadow wouldn’t fall on the object as I attempted to capture it.

Another downside was the lack of a true preview.  While working with the camera at the National Museum, I was able to keep it connected to my laptop, where I could preview every picture and, if necessary, make constant adjustments to the settings.  This was not feasible with the sepulchre object, as I was moving around the object and could not keep the camera connected to my laptop.  I had to rely on the view finder on the camera itself for a preview—an option which isn’t ideal for truly examining an image upon capturing it.

I was able to apply some lessons learned from the National Museum, however.  In this instance, I used a much higher aperture setting (I kept the f-stop set at 22) and allowed the camera to adjust the ISO, so as to optimise this setting.  Overall, I feel these pictures were much sharper and of a higher quality than the pictures taken while at the National Museum.

Coming Up Next…

In part 4, I will explore the process of creating the 3D model of the sepulchre. Specifically, I will be discussing the differences between the construction of this model and that of the bowl model from part 2. I will also assess the quality of the model and what areas of improvement could have been made to create a better object.

References

[1] Sam. “The Ghost Room in Maynooth“. Come here to Me. 20 July 2012. Web. 3 April 2015.