Article: Estimation Games

My colleague Corina sent me a great article last week about the games that are played during the process of estimating IT project workload:

The apparent inability of IT people to accurately estimate the effort, time and cost of IT projects has remained an insolvable problem. In interview after interview with business people, our group has found that poor estimation is one of the major factors in the breakdown of relationships between IT people and their clients.

The article reminded me of the famous Programmer Time Translation Table. What's interesting is that the article focuses on the interpersonal aspect of the estimation process:

Almost all research into improving software estimation miss a vital point: it is people who estimate, not machines.
This simple point underpins the real problem in estimation. In fact, our research has shown that within certain conditions, IT people are pretty good at estimating. Further, our research has shown that the major precondition for improving estimation accuracy is the existence of an estimation environment free of inter-personal politics and political games.

Their take is similar to Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow recommendation that the first thing to do if we are to fight our cognitive biases is to learn to recognize them. In other words, if you can't identify it, you can't fight it.

The article goes on to describe several of the games that are played as part of the estimation process:

It is our belief that over the 30 plus years of commercial computing has developed a series of sophisticated political games that have become a replacement for estimation as a formal process. More importantly, like all good games they are passed on from generation to generation by "children" IT people learning from "adult" managers who of course learnt the games from their adults when they were children and so on.

If you have ever been impacted by this problem (and if you work in IT, you have!), read on!