If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. - Francis Bacon
Everything in project work is uncertainty. Estimating is required to discover the extent of the range of these uncertainties, the impacts of the uncertainties on cost, schedule, and the performance of the products or services.
To suggest decisions can be made in the presence of these uncertainties without knowledge of the future outcomes and the cost of achieving these outcomes, or deciding between alternatives with future outcomes ignores completely the notion of uncertainty and microeconomics of decision making in the presence of these uncertainties.
To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.
− Leonard Bernstein
The notion that planning is a waste is common in domains where mission critical, high risk - high reward, must work, type projects do not exist.
Notice the Plan and the Planned delivery date. The notion that deadlines are somehow evil, goes along with the lack on understanding that business needs a set of capabilities to be in place on a date in order to start booking the value in the general ledger.
Plans are strategies. Strategies are a hypothesis. The Hypothesis is tested with experiments. Experiments show from actual data what the outcome is of the work. These outcomes are used as feedback to take corrective actions at the strategic and tactical level of the project.
This is called Closed Loop Control. Set the strategy, define the units of measure for the desired outcome - Measures of Effectiveness and Measures of Performance. Perform work as assess these measures. Determine the variance between the planned outcomes and the needed outcomes. Take corrective action by adjusting the plan to keep the project moving toward the strategic goals. For Closed Loop Control, we need
The unassisted hand, and the understanding left to itself, posses but little power. Effects are produced by the means of instruments and helps, which the understanding requires no less than the hand. And as instruments either promote or regulate the motion of the hand, so those that are applied to the mind prompt or protect the understanding - Novum Organum Sciantiarium (Aphorisms concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626).
When we hear we can make decisions in the absence of estimating the impacts of those decisions, the cost when complete, or the lost opportunity cost for make alternative decisions, think of Bacon.
He essentially says show me the money.
Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it is consistent with the laws of nature, and in such things as these, experiment is the best test of such consistency − Michael Faraday's Diary, March 19, 1849
When we hear wonderful concepts conjectured that are untested outside personal anecdote, ask where has this worked, in what domain, in what governance framework, and what was the value at risk to applying the idea.
We shall not cease from exploration We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. -T.S. Eliot
Quoting 29 year old reports or referencing 30 year old books it not likely the best way to reveal the problems of the day. These problems have existed of 30 year, but new more effective, and much more transparent solutions are available today.
Most problems are self imposed and usually can be traced to lack of discipline. The foremost attribute of successful programs is discipline: Discipline to evolve and proclaim realistic cost goals; discipline to forego appealing but nonessential features; discipline to minimize engineering changes; discipline to do thorough failure analysis; discipline to abide by test protocols; and discipline to persevere in the face of problems that will occur in even the best-managed programs - Norm R. Augustine
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. − Oscar Wilde
The inverse is true as well, we can't know the value of something until we know it's cost. Both the cost and the value can be tangible or intangible. But both are needed when faced with deciding between alternatives. This is the very foundation of microeconomics of business decision making.
Before you begin a thing remind yourself that difficulties and delays quite impossible to foresee are ahead. You can only see one thing clearly, and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin.
— Kathleen Norris
And when they are impossible to see we need margin and reserve to protect our project from them. This margin is for the irreducible risks and the reserve is for buying down the reducible risks. Both irreducible (aleatory) and reducible (epistemic) uncertainties can be modeled for all projects. This is the role of risk management and project. To NOT model these uncertainties is to ignore them. To ignore them is to say to those providing the money that you're not following Tim Lister's advice...
Risk Management is how Adults manage projects
As well when you begin a thing remember another important quote...
Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it. ― H. James Harrington
So if we're going to start a job and don't have an assessment - to some level of confidence - of how long it will take, how much it will cost, and what we will be capable of delivering when we get to the end of the money and the time - it is very likely that those paying for our work will be very disappointed in our efforts.
When we here that we can make decisions in the absence of knowing the probabilistic cost, schedule, and likelihood of producing the needed capabilities, think back to the two quotes above. And consider the conjectures below that requires us to ignore those quote and instead follow those statements in the absence of any evidence they are applicable outside of the Value at Risk being low enough that those providing the money don't really care if it's all a loss.
† Orginal post from Mark Anderson's email from ExecuNet, 9/14/2014
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.— Daniel Patrick Moynihan
When engaging in exchanges about complex topics like cost, schedule, and technical performance management, I always get a smile when someone says oh that problem can be solved with this simple approach. Or I bet that organization has no motivation what so every to solve the problem.
Then the next quote is applicable...
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. — H. L. Mencken
Solving complex problems is hard, stating there are simple solutions without having worked on complex problems is easy.
As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
— Albert Einstein Sherwin, Ronald Paul (2014-08-17). In The Tao of Systems Engineering: An Engineer's Survival Guide (pp. 195-197). Ronald Paul Sherwin. Kindle Edition.
When ever you hear that we can't predict the future. Think again. We can always predict the future. The level of confidence of that future is what is in question.
When you hear estimating is guessing. Think again. That person doesn't understand probability and statistics. When you hear we don't need to predict to make decisions, that person has very little at risk from that decision, since making decisions in the absence of knowing the possible loss ignores the principles of microeconomics of everyday life.
When ever you hear we don't need to estimate the outcomes of our decisions. Think again. We don't need to estimate those outcomes only if they are of low enough value that we don't care about the consequences of not knowing to some level of confidence what happens as a result of our decision. We're willing to wright off our loss if we're wrong.
When we hear any conjecture that involves mathematics that does not address the foundation of the mathematical principles of that discussion, remember Einstein, and also remember how to apply that advice in the specific domain and context of the question guided by Deming.
Management is Prediction
Since management is prediction, knowing how to make predictions using statistical methods to produce a confidence interval about the probabilistic outcomes of those business decisions is part of management. When we want a sit at the table where management decisions are being made, knowing this and being able to add value to the decision process is the price of entry to that room. Otherwise we're labor sitting outside the room waiting for the decisions to be made.
"You cannot have an execution culture without robust dialog - one that brings reality to the surface through openness, candor, and informality.
This is called "truth over harmony"
in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
— Sun Tzu
Every time you hear about some conjectured great new idea on how to solve a vexing problem, ask what's the actual problem to be solved, what's the root cause of that problem, what domain is this problem found in and what domain is this problem already solved in, and finally ask what's your strategy for assuring that your solution will actually result in a solution that doesn't break something else, violate a business principle, and create an obligation that you didn't think of because you were too busy admiring your cleaver idea?
“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” — Andre Gide 1869–1951
It worth repeating, Rudyard Kipling’s Six Trusted Friends
If you're looking for a set of phrases useful for all project work, these are them. Ask them, repeat them, don't take I don't know for an answer.