Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ho to obtain good estimates?

Today, we will speak about eliciting estimates from people. It would make the task easier if your peers who oppose you in this matter would read "how to make good estimates?" first. Even if they didn't this is in your hands to lead them the right path.

First of all make sure the task is understood by the performer. Ask him or her to paraphrase the assignment to you, so you can correct it until it's too late. This is also important to help the performer understand what other task performed in the past could be used for comparison or verification of the estimate. Sit down together and find what you did before that can be measured up against a new task (similar project, task). However, be careful to use examples more than 3 times bigger or smaller in size.

If you don't have examples and the task is completely new to a performer then define the plan how to analyze the problem (investigation, prototyping, consulting gurus, etc.). One of most important parts of this stage is having a concrete goal, a milestone when the investigation will complete, or at least a date of its completion will be known.

Once you have got first estimate do not accept it as is. Question it. People tend to take estimates too optimistic, so they have troubled in meeting them afterwards. In order not to fall prey of wishful thinking, start asking "what if?" question. What is that part will not be delivered to you for testing at the date you assumed? What is if it will take longer to test your code? I have seen that testing of such modules takes up to 30% of development time. What if you have no product requirements finished at the desired date? What else you can do to mitigate that risk? Asking such questions will help you analyze different scenarios of "how it may go wrong". Such scenarios are usually neglected by people who used to think overly optimistically.

This is also helpful to build your own estimates or to ask another expert to provide a variant of the estimation. Comparing alternatives is a key to finding out what is missed from consideration. Creating estimates using different parameters is another way of drawing alternatives for the analysis (calculate time needed to test out of development hours vs. the same parameter calculated from the number of requirement). Never use average, or some percent of several estimates. This is completely wrong because our goal is to find why the estimates are different, so we can correct them with new information that has been missed from consideration during the initial estimation.

This is it! It's pretty easy and straightforward process :)

As for the methods of estimation I recommend you reading "How much does a project cost?" by Steve McConnel.

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