I was recently reading an article by Moira Alexander titled “Why Planning Is the Most Critical Step in Project Management” and I was stuck by her observation that one of the primary reasons that projects fail is because they commit to unrealistic expectations. In my 35 years of experience, I believe this is the number one reason projects fail. Yet it is competence that few organizations or product owners ever get good at.
Today there are good simulation tools that make it simple to establish realistic project boundaries. The results can be used effectively to communicate and negotiate expectations with clients.
For example, imagine that you are a product owner planning out your next release. Your team of 10 people has been working on a 5-month release cadence. A backlog refinement has shown that there are approximately 100 story points to be completed in this release. The project plan is shown in the figure below.
However, there are some uncertainties and we need to deal with them in a realistic way. Since the schedule and the team size are fixed, the only area that can give is the functionality. Simulations are a great way to quantify uncertainty. In our case, we are confident in our team’s productivity and labor cost, but we are somewhat more uncertain about the new capabilities in this release. It is easy to adjust the uncertainty settings and run a business simulation. The uncertainty slider bars are in the image below.