Estimation is one of the essential parameters that are crucial to whether a project is a success or failure. This is because the error in estimation is expressed as an underestimation or overestimation and is therefore a major problem for the company. Underestimation can be financially costly and overestimation in tender processes may result in that the company does not get the tender.
Estimation-methods are used leniently in most IT companies. The largest and most important reason is that estimation is not always performed by professionals. The estimation is performed by all business functions from the senior management, chief consultants and developers. Despite the fact that a reliable result often requires preparation and composition of various specialists and their skills.
As a project-manager I have worked with many complex IT-projects. I have experienced on several occasions that the management has been a little too “trigger-happy” when applying estimation.
The management issue
Most managers often lack the necessary skills, expertise and experience to make qualified estimates. This is where the fundamental problem arises. The vast majority of managers underestimate often as they perceive estimate as a negotiating process, where time is the greatest sacrifice. For them it is about informing the customer about the price of the product, which in any case shall not exceed the asking price. If this is the case, then they will most likely select a different supplier. There are some customers who make a claim for getting an early estimate. That is perfectly acceptable, and there should be room for this, as long as there is a broad consensus about the fundamentals with the client about the initial rough estimates.
Experience shows that developers involved in the work are rarely taken seriously. The developers will be blamed when the deadline is exceeded due to erroneous estimates. Because management sets expectations for a quick “guesstimate” and are not willing to pay the costs to implement a real estimation. Furthermore, there are challenges with task-descriptions which may seem ambiguous, which obviously lead estimates into the directions of east and west. It is typically caused by “scope creep” and imprecisely worded requirements which must be improved and that is also part of the problem.
Thus, I believe that it is a problem in management, as they often tackle the estimation process very simplistically.
How to obtain a more accurate estimation
All these uncertainties and other much more difficult issues can easily be estimated more accurately, but it requires some compromise between management and specialists.
- Management must fundamentally recognize professionals and their skills. This makes it possible for professionals to get a feeling of the obligation to carry out their work in good faith, accommodating and meeting the expectations of the management. Management must be inquisitive, show interest and engage in dialogue to find out where the complexity lies in the task. It can be because they misunderstand each other regarding the scope or the requirement specifications are not clear.
- Cooperation increases dividends. Get several different developers with relevant knowledge to provide input and thus achieve a more accurate estimation. We have learned about the use of Scrum poker in the agile world.
- It is important in the project to identify preconditions by dividing the project into independent activities with the help of the Work Breakdown Structure (project into phases, deliverables and work packages). It is very important for the project and makes it easier for developers to meet the estimation.
- Diversity in the estimation process is important in order to have different inputs on various project activities. The project managers, Scrum master or facilitators are also responsible for variation in inputs about the estimation since different specialists look different on the assignment.
- In the initial phase, it is essential to devote time for the project and steering committee meetings, as well as time for design, test and access to the right tools to test persons. Additionally, it is a good idea to set aside time for risks and unforeseen events.
It is just a matter of finding the correct methods. I have been involved in projects and have developed a checklist in order to make estimation easy. Here I have learned that the checklist can contribute significant improvements in the estimation process and it shows that the management should consider the following questions in the checklist, before the release of the estimation to the customer. The customer always learns and remembers the first estimate and often it is difficult to change the estimates along the way.
This checklist serves as a friendly reminder whether if the following benchmarks have been considered your estimate and also works as a support the process of estimation in a given project.
The checklist is universal and can go hand in hand with all estimation methods such as Expert Method and Planning Poker also called Scrum Poker. But I would definitely recommend using the checklist in the start-up phase of customer offers or projects. This must be done in consultation with project stakeholders as well as customers, suppliers, etc. They will gain better insight and understanding of the initial rough estimates. That is not said that you should make estimations during a meeting with customers or external parties before it is consulted with others in the organization.
/ Zubir Shah, Professional project manager