Don’t Fear the Estimates

I comes as not surprise that I follow other bloggers. One of my favorites is a word press blog of Tisquirrel.  She has recently posted “It seems that I hate estimations. Really?” that I thought very telling.

The trouble with Estimates

The trials she describes happen very frequently. The truth is, estimates are just that – or best (hopefully) informed assessment of what is required to achieve the stated objective.  To make the assessment from the informed perspective, will require some time for discovery.  We want to know what are we trying to do? What is the best approach? What technical and schedule risks do we have in achieving the objective?  This requires some adequate time to arrive at reasonable assessment.

Who Estimates Can Minimize Risk?

Presumably, the technical personnel that will be required to deliver, are closer than the sales or executive staff.  The people doing the work typically are in a better position to estimate, as their daily job is associated with the work.  I have been on projects where the estimates and date for delivery were known even before we understand the scope from a technical perspective. Sometimes this is unavoidable, for example legal projects like EPA mandates, that have a firm fixed date for introduction.  Missing that date will invoke heavy penalties and fines administered by the sanctioning body.  These conditions are recognized and understood by the team.  However, arbitrary dates imposed by the uninitiated on the wherewithal it takes to deliver are death marches. The team knows up front that success is not possible.  I make the analogy of the basketball coach that asks his player to make a 25 foot verticle leap.  It is pointless to attempt that “achievement”.  This request is not just out of bounds that might be achievable – th sort of thing that is a motivational catalyst to achievement.

Estimates and Metrics

Nothing wrong with estimates, but measurements should confirm or refute if your estimates were valid.  This is true whether we are estimating or whether our sales team, or executives are providing the estimates.  We should select key metrics that prove or refute those estimates and constantly review these metrics with the team and project / product sponsor.  Estimates, not matter how these are derived, should have a metric that informs us if our estimates were right or if our project and product costs and delivery date are compromised. That is one of the reasons for Earned Value Management techniques for conventional projects, and the burn down chart and sprint velocity for agile.

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