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“What in the World Were We thinking?” :Managing Stakeholder Expectations and Engagement through Transparent and Collaborative Project Estimation

SECOND EDITION

By Laura Zuber

Quantitative Software Management, Inc.

Texas, USA
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Abstract

One of the biggest reasons IT projects overrun their schedules and budgets is that they commit to unrealistic schedule and budget expectations.  Why?  Because budgets and schedules are set before estimation analysis can be performed.  Early in the life cycle very little information is available upon which to determine size and scope.  Another problem is that project estimate assumptions are not well documented, updated, or communicated such that, stakeholders remain engaged as the project progresses, and project performance can be objectively evaluated at closeout.  Reducing overruns and avoiding having to ask “What in the world were we thinking (when we committed to that project)?” begins with a transparent and collaborative estimation process.

Stakeholders are willing to commit to defensible estimates.  Producing defensible estimates requires processes and tools that promote communication and collaboration by all project stakeholders including the project team, executives, and customers.  A defensible estimate is one that:

  • Is based upon known capabilities derived from historical projects
  • Incorporates quantified risk assessment of multiple estimate solutions that explore project goal tradeoffs
  • Promotes stakeholder contributions to increase their support and the chance of project success

This paper shows how providing project estimation and measurement data early and throughout the project life cycle, by role definitions, helps project managers engage stakeholders and manage expectations.

I. Introduction

A.  State of Affairs

Information Technology (IT), particularly software development, has a poor track record of success.  Although the Software Engineering Institute published the Capability Maturity Model for Softwarei in the early 1990s, development processes remain immature.  Project budget and schedule overruns are still the norm.  Steve McConnell ii recently reported that although the most common project outcome is success, about one-third of all projects are cancelled or considered failures, and the average schedule overrun may approach 100 percent (Figure 1).  One of the biggest reasons projects overrun their schedules and budgets is that they commit to unrealistic schedule and budget expectations.  Schedule and budget expectations are set before an estimation analysis can be performed.  Early in the life cycle very little information is available on which to determine scope and size.  Uncertainty about productivity assumptions is high, as are resource availability and staffing strategies.  Tom DeMarcoiii noted back in 1995 that “failure to deliver within our estimate is an estimating failure, not a production failure.”  Very little has changed.

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To read entire paper (click here)

Editor’s note:  Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. This paper was originally published in the PM World Today eJournal in September 2009; it is republished here with the author’s permission.

About the Author

flag-usapmwj15-oct2013-Zuber-AUTHOR IMAGE 200x165Laura Zuber

Texas, USA

Laura Zuber has 20 years of experience in software development consulting and training. She currently serves as a training instructor and customer support representative for QSM, Inc., a PMI Registered Education Provider. Prior to coming to QSM, Laura managed software development projects, and served as a senior software process improvement specialist at SAIC. She has performed process assessments, designed and implemented best practices, and co-lead the corporate metrics training program. Laura holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Petroleum Engineering from Texas A&M University, where her master’s thesis was on risk analysis using advanced Monte Carlo simulation techniques.  She enjoys singing, golfing, and running.  Laura can be contacted at [email protected],