When we read on a blog post that estimates are not meaningful unless you are doing very trivial work, † I wonder if the poster has worked on any non-trivial software domain. Places like GPS OCX, SAP consolidation, Manned Space Flight Avionics, or maybe Health Insurance Provider Networks. Because without some hands on experience in those non-trivial domains, it's be hard to actually knowing what you're talking about when it comes to estimating the spend of other peoples money.
Maybe some background on estimates for nontrivial work will shed light on this ill informed notion that only trivial projects can be estimated.
- Software Cost estimating Methods for Large Projects
- Integrated Cost and Schedule Risk Analysis Using Monte Carlo Simulation of a CPM Model, AACEI Recommended Practice, TCM Framework 7.6
- Core Estimating Processes
- Reducing Bias in Software Project Estimates
- Understanding Software Project Estimates
- Software Estimating Models, Three Viewpoints
- Good Software Estimating Requires Historical Data
- Software Estimation: Developing an Accurate Reliable Method
These are a small sample of papers from one journal on software estimating for misison critical, some times National Asset projects.
Go to Cross Talk, The Journal of Defense Software Engineering, and search for "estimating" to get 10 pages of 10 articles on this topic alone. This notion of estimating in non-trivial domains is well developed, well documented, and many examples of tools, processes, and principles.
If Do Your Homework and the Test is much easier.
It could be that the original poster has little experience in mission critical, national asset, enterprise class, software intensive systems. Or it could be the poster simply doesn't know what making estimates for project that spends other peoples money, many times significant amounts of money, is all about.
And of course most of the problems describes as the basis for Not Estimating - the illogical notion that if we can't do something well, let's stop doing it - starts with not knowing what Done Looks Like in any units of measure meaningful to the decision makers.
So start here with my favorite enterprise architect blog amd his list of books when you follow the link to the bottom.
So when you have some sense of what DONE looks like in terms of capabilities, the estimating process is now on solid ground. From that solid ground you can ask have we done any like this before? Or better yet can we f ind someone who has done something like this before? Or maybe can we look around to see what looks like our problem and figure out how long it took them by simply asking them? I
If the answer to any of those questions is NO and you're NOT working in a research and development domain, then don't start the project because you're not qualified to do the work, you don't know what you're doing and you're going to waste your customers money.
† Scroll to the bottom of http://zuill.us/WoodyZuill/category/estimating/ and search for "A Thing I Can Estimate," to see the phrase, and remember the questions and the answers above. If you're not answering those in some positive way, you're now on a death march project starting day one, because you don't know what done looks like for the needed capabilities. Not the requirements, not the code, not the testing - that's all straight forward. Without some notion of what the system is supposed to do, you're never recognize it if it were ever to come into view. And since the customer doesn't know as well, all the money they're spending to find out has to be written off as IRAD or flushed down the toliet as a waste of time and effort in the end. And then you'll know why Standish (improperly) reports projects fail.