What's it gonna cost and when will you be done? And oh yea, ...it will work enough to meet my mission success criteria right? You've heard this before right? If not, you're not traveling in the right crowd. Projects that are in trouble, started out in trouble, and will likely stay in trouble until you get your arms around credible answers to thos questions.
When we encounter a project or program that is manifestly important and nearly impossible as Edwin Land stated, how do we answer these 3 fundamental questions?
What is it going to cost? We need some way to estimate the Estimate at Completion. Same for when are we going to be done. Can we say up front, that it is going to work? Probably not with the level of confidence we'd expect for a project that is manifestly important and nearly impossible.
Flying to Mars is a prooject like that. Building and deploying Joint Strike Fighter is another. Closing the 3rd worst toxic waste site on the planet was another.
Each of these projects had Estimates of cost, schedule, and their techncial performance. These estimates played several important roles for the owners of the money.
- The estimate informed the decision making process for gathering the funds for the project. Now many times those estimates were manipulated for the political benefit of the participants. That's a problem of course, but that's not a problem becasue they are doing estimating. It's a problem because those asking for the estimate don't really want to hear the numbers.
- The estimate is then used - assuming it's done for the right reasons - to assess the performnce of the program as it proceeds. The estimate provide actionable information to the decision maker as we say in our domain. You estimated $1B not it looks like $7B We need to have a serious talk, please come to Headquarters and convince me you've got this beast undercontrol.
But the notion we don't need estimating or that customers don't need estimating process is w whole other story. This nonsense ignores one fundamental principle of providing products or services.
If it's not your money, don't spend it like it was your money
This is called fiduciary accountability or better Project Governance. If it's you money, no one cares what you do with it. But it makes it hard to hve a conversation, when those conjecturing #NoEstimates is the next big thing in Agile Development don't state in what domain their idea is applicable.
Are the project Land speaks of applicable? How about flying to Mars on a specific set of days every 3 years? How about a planned roll out of 52 sites of SAP for a Fortune 100 company whose revenue depends on the success of the project? You know manifestly importance and nearly impossible