The Art of IT Effort Estimation

Why Estimate at all?

Estimation is an essential part of any project methodology. Estimation is used for a number of purposes:

  • To justify the project enabling the costs to be compared with the anticipated benefits and to enable informed comparisons to be made between different technical or functional options.
  • To enforce the discipline needed to make the project succeed.
  • To secure the resources required to successfully deliver the project.
  • To ensure that the support impact of the project is fully understood.
  • To inform and improve the software development process.

What is estimation and why is it so important

Projects are planned and managed within scope, time, and cost constraints. These constraints are referred to as the Project Management Triangle.  Each side represents a constraint.  One side of the triangle cannot be changed without impacting the others. The time constraint refers to the amount of time available to complete a project. The cost constraint refers to the budgeted amount available for the project. The scope constraint refers to what must be done to produce the project’s end result.

These three constraints are often competing constraints: increased scope typically means increased time and increased cost, a tight time constraint could mean increased costs and reduced scope, and a tight budget could mean increased time and reduced scope.

PM 3 Constraints

What are the challenges

  • Lack of communication between…a…b…c
  • Lack of training in basic knowledge and techniques of estimation
  • Inability to do estimations based on – cost – time – scope
  • Project failure through time over runs and faulty estimation

Where are we going wrong?

  • Every day, project managers and business leaders make decisions based on estimates of the dynamics of the project management triangle.
  • Since each decision can determine whether a project succeeds or fails, accurate estimates are critical.
  • Projects launched without a rigorous initial estimate are five times more probable of experiencing delays and cancellations.
  • Even projects with sound initial estimates are doomed if they are not guided by informed decisions within the constraints of the triangle.
  • If you are working under a fixed budget (cost constraint), then an inaccurate estimate of the number of product features you can produce (scope) within a fixed period of time (schedule) will doom your project.
  • Inaccurate estimates across your projects de-optimize your portfolio.
  • Estimates are always questioned when estimates are given with knowledge – no estimation template is being used

How can we improve?

  1.  Outsource the project estimation function to an outside qualified consultant for each project to be able to gain viable and realistic project estimations that can be achieved.
  2.  Education of in-house project managers and technical leads so that we are able to collectively able to provide clear methodologies on how to estimate accurately.

This can be done through an onsite workshop/course  – onsite is cost effective as company will pay one block fee for the attendees instead of delegates going offsite and attending a workshop where individual fees are applicable.

My personal recommendation is option B – as this option will allow us to retain skills in house to be able to produce accurate estimates

What are the long term benefits

Well crafted estimate creates many benefits:

  • alignment between business objectives and technical estimates
  • more informed business decision making
  • reliable project delivery dates
  • improved communication between management and the project team
  • controlled project costs, and
  • satisfied customers

Conclusion

The UK is facing ever tightening economic restraints. This means the quality of work is now, more than ever, of the utmost importance. To stay competitive in a shrinking marketplace, this company cannot afford to get a reputation in the industry for non-performance and bringing in projects over budget and outside estimated time frames. Credibility is the basis on which we build our reputation. In the eyes of clients credibility = successful projects. For us the success of all projects rest on the correct and precise estimation from the start of a project based on best practices, realistic expectations and transparency.

 

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