Practical Software Estimation Measurement

Estimating for the Business Plan

Having worked in sales and customer service at QSM for over 17 years, I speak to hundreds of professionals each year that are directly or indirectly involved with software development projects using many different development processes. One of the things that I hear from time to time is that estimating is not as important when working with more iterative development methodologies. Some of the reasons I hear most often are that “team sizes are smaller,” “work can be deferred until the next iteration,” “we are different,” and “we are agile.”

As I dig deeper though, I find that the fundamental questions that software estimates answer are relevant, no matter what development methodology is being used. Before committing to a project, executives and managers need to determine reasonable cost, schedule, and how much they can deliver. This is when not very much is known and before any detailed planning occurs.  Estimating helps mitigate risk early in the project lifecycle. Companies also need to have reliable information in order to negotiate with clients. How can we negotiate a schedule and a budget on any project without a defensible estimate? 

When looking at QSM research based on our database of over 10,000 industry projects, a common theme that we see in failed projects is that development team performance is often not the issue. When it comes to missed schedules and budgets, many of the problems occur when expectations are too high and when estimates are not a priority. If we don’t have a reliable estimate up front before the project starts, it’s tough to plan ahead. 

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