More on estimation principles

I saw this comment by Dennis Stevens (Dennis’s blog is here) on Glen Alleman’s post on software estimation practices (here).  His comment hit on two points that stood out.

Effective estimating requires a strong understanding of variance in estimating and how to account for/govern this variance.

Ditto and amen… my experience in implementing logistics optimization (I worked for formerly-independent component of Descartes) helped me get comfortable with the fuzziness of estimation (e.g., variance).  Two b-school courses were also helpful: mathematical modeling for marketing and applied multivariate analysis (I keep the latter’s textbook by my desk). This background may not make me an expert, but I have a decent estimation BS detector.

Politically driven estimates are just irresponsible management. I remember a conversation with an executive where I told him “This is a 46 week effort. If you need to say 32 to get funding, then you can say 32 and deliver 14 weeks late – or we can say 46. It’s up to you.” We presented at 46 weeks, got the funding, and delivered on time. If an organization can’t afford to do a project, it shouldn’t be done based on false estimates – this is malfeasance.

As Dennis suggests in this case, pretending that the earlier delivery target does not compromise the product or mean inevitable delays is foolish, even unethical.  My experience is that this self-sabotaging approach happens because the project can’t or won’t demonstrate the impact of such decisions on the initiative’s business case.

To that point about the business case, I’ll use a future post to lay out how we used a simple illustration of our business case to justify an internal program’s proposed release schedule.

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3 Responses

  1. […] More on estimation principles […]

  2. There are two aspects of politically driven estimates. Sometimes it’s a sales team which insist on cutting a schedule since “you won’t be competitive with your 46 weeks”. In this kind of situations I used to leave a choice for salespeople – they know what we’re capable of and they know the client better so they should be more competent to decide whether you should say 46 weeks or 32 knowing there will be 14-week slip.

    The other aspect is the client themselves. They often force you to shorten the deadline. Personally I don’t get it. The generate their buffer which is pretty virtual because in vast majority of cases vendors will agree to avoid losing the deal even when they know they won’t do the project on time. Actually this is counterproductive since impossible deadline generates additional work and project is usually delivered later than it would be if no one messed with the schedule.

  3. That’s a great choice for the sales folks… it is smart to insist on the integrity of your estimates. Per an earlier thread, smarter sales management will use estimation to good advantage in managing the pipeline.

    Arbitrary schedule compression is so foolish — especially in enterprise software. There’s only so much scope that you can take out before you’re not delivering a set of capabilities that hang together. I like the idea of delivering quick wins, but plan for it up front.

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