Estimates and Why They Are Not Accepted

Share this Article

Author:

I just delivered a training course in Lahore on software effort and size estimations yesterday. Most of the people present were project managers while three were technical head of departments in their organizations. What was surprising was the fact that quite a few people, almost 1/3 of the total participants, had flown in from Karachi to attend. During the course of the event, I heard a lot of the grievances people had from both management and customers when making estimates and why estimation was considered, at large, an exercise in futility. The basic problem, I learned, was that inaccurate estimates, given at the very beginning of projects were accepted, and any educated estimate made later, even after uncovering requirements and details, were rejected.

Why exactly is this happening, I wondered? And put the question forward to the group. Here is what they had to say.

From the PM’s:

  • We’re not given enough time to think of the answer, but have to provide it from the top of our heads, usually within a couple of minutes in a meeting or a phone call.
  • Our estimates are overruled by the time line the client wants, not by how/when we can deliver it.
  • We’re not included in the pre-sales process, our input is not taken on whether we can even do the project. Management selects everything and then tells us what to do.
  • Our projects are all different, in new areas, and we have no idea how long they would take to complete.
  • Things go wrong all the time, and we don’t know exactly how long it would take to each task, especially if they involve talking to the user. How can we tell this to our management?
  • We dont know of any other method than to ‘guesstimate’, and management makes better guesstimates.

From technical heads:

  • We already have an estimate in our minds before we ask our PMs. If they match what we think, we go ahead, otherwise we adjust them.
  • If we give them shorter, tougher time frames, it will make them work harder! Otherwise, developers just waste time on orkut or facebook!
  • PM’s don’t know what they’re talking about, they dont have enough experience.

The disconnect?

Somehow, it seemed a majority of the PMs were giving excuses, not reasons. The only thing is, when you are a developer, all of these seem like valid reasons. I believe that is where the disconnect lies between PMs and their Technical department heads. The fact that each of them thinks both the best and worst of each other, and both at the same time.

Let me clarify this a bit more.

On one side of the equation, you have PMs, who neither asked their management to give them time to think things through, nor educated them about the accuracy of whatever estimate they are giving. When management asks, ‘how long will this software project take to deliver’ and PMs say ‘about 20 days’, they will either think a)”this guy knows what he’s talking about, if he says 20, then it’ll take 20″ or b)”this guy doesn’t even have a clue. 20 days is too much because last project i did [or supervised] took only 10!” and so on. So people whose reputations have been established, get away with it, while everyone else gets to be pressurized into making estimates which sound good.

On the other side of the equation, management will react to an estimate given their own personal orientation. They either lean towards being optimistic or pessimistic. Tell an optimistic manager that you need 20 days and they’ll hear 15 because they’ve got the best team who will not make mistakes and there will be no rework, but if you tell 20 days to a pessimistic manager, they’ll hear 25 because they are sure the team will screw up and they’ll get major defects to work out later. However, a lot of them never consider the ‘accuracy’ of the original estimate in the first place, because well, they got it from someone who knew their job and they can deliver it in that time.

But what is the accuracy of an estimate anyway?

In general, a top of the head estimate given very early on will be anywhere between -25% to 1000% accurate. Which means, that a 1000 hour project might actually take 750 hours or upto 100,000 hours. (Projects have been known to overshoot their original estimates by as much as 3000% as well). The more information you have when building your estimate, the closer you can take your accuracy range. E.g. making an estimate of work after uncovering requirements and developing the design will take your accuracy down to within -5% to 10%, meaning you can complete the same 1000 hour project in anywhere between 950 to 1100 hours.

So what now?

Once this fact was made clear during the course, I got another very interesting question. So what if my estimate is accurate or inaccurate, how will I explain that to my management? The answer? Explain it to them! Tell whoever is asking for an estimate just how accurate it is at that point. Something like, “I think this project can be made in between 20 to 30 days, however since i don’t have much information at this point, this estimate will only be accurate within -25% to 100%. Give me more information, and i can generate a much more accurate estimate.” You’ll be surprised at just how many managers will tell their clients they can do that project in 40 to 45 days or give you more time to come up with a better estimate. No one wants to end up with egg on their face.

I’ll be giving another course on estimation tomorrow, this time in Islamabad. If i get any more interesting reasons on why estimates are not accepted, I’ll add them up here. Till then, happy estimating.

Facebook comments:

3 Comments

  • Where is your course going to be and how can one register for it?

    Thanks.

  • Mansoor brother, please let us know when you do something in Lahore. Great post this one.

    I dealt with clients who would say, “OK we need to get this thing done in two weeks. We know it is a hard deadline but you know how things go when business needs to be get done.”

    I found that breaking things down with them I could convince them to finish a version in two weeks, if I thought it was possible. Other features were moved to future iterations.

    One fact that I have noted is that it always takes one project with a client to get communication and estimation sorted out. The future projects become much smoother.

  • nabil: i’m sorry but the date for this particular course has passed. If you’d like, i’ll keep you posted about our upcoming sessions?

    adnan: will definitely let you know adnan. the method you advocate is one i’ve been telling the participants at both cities.. once you talk with your management or your client and reason with them, they will usually see things the way you do.. we just cant expect that they will think the way we do in any case.

Leave a Reply


*

Recent Posts

  • Events General Mobile Apps Container Run a continuation of politically motivated apps

    Container Run a continuation of politically motivated apps

    First we had Angry Imran which brought smiles and some short lived fun for us during the election campaign. Then came Gullu Butt following the incident of Model Town Lahore, which stayed on top of charts (Pakistan play store) for quite some while. Also Gullu Butt made an update with having the famous “Aam Khaiyga” quote form Aamir Liaqat in which a character resembling Aamir Liaqt throws mangoes and the Gullu Butt character tries to catch them. Gullu butt currently has more than 100,000 Installs

    And now during this extremely politically tense situation which had the whole nation on its toes on 14th August we have another app continuing the …

    Read more →
  • Announcements Featured Startup General Meritaleem.com aims to help student make better decision regarding their future.

    Meritaleem.com aims to help student make better decision regarding their future.

    MeriTaleem.com aims to solve an age old problem for our students, where to go next?

    If you have just completed your primary school which college to pick, if you have completed your college which university to pick. There has always been lack of information or rather consolidated information regarding these questions. The best source till now has always been relatives and friends (mostly of your parents). So some uncle did CA and made a good living you should talk to him and decide, or daughter of my sister completed her medical and is practicing follow that career.

    The fact that online presence of our existing universities are limited and not …

    Read more →
  • General Mobile Apps Eccentria Technologies launches an app which shoots to the top of the charts

    Eccentria Technologies launches an app which shoots to the top of the charts

    Whoa!! this was quick so Eccentia technologies launched an app a few days ago called “Ajj Kia Pakaen” or what to cook today and today it has reached the top of charts for Pakistani Stores on iTunes and google play store.

    “Ajj Kia Pakaen” is the most common question asked at every house hold in the morning. The ladies of the family have a hard time deciding what to cook for the day. The app has a fun interface and is simple to use, you fire it up, and it gives you an option of what to cook for the day, if you like the option you can check the …

    Read more →
  • Coffee Session General Marketing/Adv Rise of facebook marketing in Pakistan

    Rise of facebook marketing in Pakistan

     

    Until a few years back we used to have closed groups and forums, which gathered the like minded people and anyone targeting the online audience would tap into that forum and market his/her services. So PakGamers , PakPassion initially even PakWheels used to be driven by members talking about what they loved, people used to create marketing and sales opportunities from within those discussions (so you could get a good router cheap or a gaming PC etc).
    The advent of facebook changed all that, most of the forum goers moved to the new social media. It also made a very attractive market place for some one who does not …

    Read more →
  • General Getting back

    Getting back

    I  have been out of blogging for a long long long time, a lot of things happening on personal front (including a little startup I have ben doing my self). However during my absence I met a lot of people who had followed GreenWhite at its peak, read the articles regularly.

    I had hope there would be some one else who would come ahead and cover everything going on and around us in the local tech world. There are some guys doing a great job, but for some reason I still could not find one source where I can go and read about everything, so my routine usually is to …

    Read more →
  • General Mobile Apps Software & I.T. GeniTeam launches official app for Pakistan Idol

    GeniTeam launches official app for Pakistan Idol

    GeniITeam has successfully launched an official app for PakistanIdol. This is one of the first collaboration between a reality game show and a local app development company. I am sure a lot more would follow. Previously we have seen seenreport becoming the basis of mostly all channels citizen reporting system (Like Geo Dost). This is a healthy sign and with the advent of 3G round the corner it should become a business generator for our local firms.

    App allows you to follow the contestants that you like, promote them, comment on live feedback on an episode. It offers official content from the show since it is developed with partnership with …

    Read more →
  • General 10Pearls and National Geographic Release A Geography Challenge App

    10Pearls and National Geographic Release A Geography Challenge App

    10Pearls, one of the leading Pakistani IT companies, has recently added another feather to its cap. This time, in partnership with National Geographic, 10Pearls has released the new and improved GeoBee Challenge App – an interactive app to challenge and grow the geographic knowledge of the users.

    Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The competition is designed to encourage geography in the classroom, ignite student interest in the world around them, and increase public awareness about geography. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging test …

    Read more →
  • General 10Pearls Spins Off Game Plan8

    10Pearls Spins Off Game Plan8

    It’s heartening to see that Pakistani IT companies have now started to diversify themselves into non traditional areas, and are competing with global players in areas such as gaming. We have received information that 10Pearls, one of the leading  mobile and enterprise web development services companies in Pakistan, has spun-off a separate entity focused solely on developing and publishing casual mobile games.  The new entity, Game Plan8, will focus on creating 2D and 3D games for the iOS, Google Android, Kindle, Facebook and other platforms. Details can be seen on the company’s official press release at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/12/prweb11428177.htm

     …

    Read more →
  • General Telecom CCP Gives Guidelines Against Telecom Companies’ Deceptive Marketing

    CCP Gives Guidelines Against Telecom Companies’ Deceptive Marketing

    If only were there two things when it comes to the law, firstly the fear of breaking it and by passing the legal authority, and secondly, implementation of the law given full dedication, there would have been less competency and dishonesty in business and society. However, keeping good faith, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has put forward “Deceptive Marketing Guidelines” which will maintain the Section 10 of the Competition Act, 2010. In order to enforce this part of the law and stop anti-competitive conduct on part of the telecom companies in advertising, the guidelines have been shared with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and other concerned telecommunication sector members, in …

    Read more →