Original Post Date: Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A good point is made in a comment to my last post, Chris Carter says, "As estimators I think it is our duty to tell our customer (management) what we assess the possible range of outcomes to be so that they can make use of this information ".  I agree that we should always deliver an indication of accuracy every estimate.  Uncertainty and risk analysis is an integral feature of TruePlanning and we educate our clients on the value of estimate ranges to optimizing project and portfolio performance. The uncertainty-based probabilistic confidence-level of an estimate that our products produce is an effective means of addressing the issue. Your cost estimating tools and cost estimating software should address uncertainty and confidence so that weapon system project planning and IT budget planning can be optimized.

Many times estimating software cost is the major challenge. I recently came across a strong case for estimating accuracy and the value of risk ranges in a recent Forrester Research report titled,  “Debunking IT Project Failure Myths,” by Lewis Cardin, a former CIO and currently senior analyst. The twelve-minute Podcast is worth a listen. Mr. Cardin found that among the top reasons projects failed were:

[Begin quote]
1. An unrealistic project plan, which dooms the best project.
All too often, when these projects go on the rails of the original project plan, PMs must spend more time on damage control with steering committees and project resources rather than on execution — doubling their work when it is least desirable to do so.

2. First-number syndrome, which makes business execs forget it’s an estimate.
When projects are first sized, which is likely to occur before they are approved, estimates of cost, time, and resources are preliminary with a wide confidence interval…. But business execs remember the number and forget how uncertain it is…[and] may see this simply as increasing costs, not as the inevitable result of greater knowledge.
[End quote]

I have seen these two factors kill many good projects and ruin the careers of many good people.  I served on the "International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force" (IMCE) for NASA and this was exactly the situation with that program.  My experience there prompted me to compile "Six Steps to Program Success" where, "Getting the estimate right the first time" is the most important step. It is so important that you create the right expectations at the beginning of project by presenting the possible outcomes, good, bad, and ugly.

Estimating accuracy is not just about one number. It applies to risk ranges and confidence-levels so that management can determine the right number that goes into the bid or budget.