Pete's Estimating Laws


Quick Summary
A loosely bound set of Universal Laws that provides the project manager with amusing reminders of possible influences on and errors encountered when estimating work on a project.


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What this is

A loosely bound set of Universal Laws that provides the project manager with amusing insight into possible influences on and errors encountered when estimating work on a project. The information is presented with a degree of humor- but important realities are there.


Why it's useful

Estimates are not concrete or absolute or exact. If they were any of these things, they wouldn't be called estimates. Unfortunately, those who use our estimates may mis-use them, so aids to getting better estimates and watchfulness for bad influences are a good idea.

There are many ways to estimate things. Some people making estimates are good at estimating some things and if you are lucky, the things they are good at estimating are the project-related issues in their domain or area of expertise. Some estimates are based on historical data, sometimes using discrete data. Many times, the estimates are intuitive. Many times, the estimates are made with incorrect or, more likely, incomplete data. Many times estimates are made under pressure to perform or to meet the (optimistic) expectations of management or others. Many time estimates are made under time duress. Many times estimates are made with some or all of the above potential problems.

We make estimates we can't get perfect data to predicting cost and time for a project. If we try to acquire perfect, correct information, we hit a diminishing return phenomenon: it becomes more and more time consuming to get better and better information. Usually, costs and time constraints dictate that we do as well as we can, and we move forward with incomplete data and some degree of guessing. The project schedule inevitably contains a degree of information that is incorrect, sometimes a considerable amount of incorrect data.


How to use it

The project manager should repeat these "laws" as a mantra over and over again in their head. The project manager should mumble them under his or her breath while resisting pressure to reduce the time of the schedule. The project manager should recite these at the beginning of any project team meeting, particularly during the initiation (early) phases of planning the project, and more passionately as the project leader attempts to get buy-in to the budget and schedule.

Note: The suggested actions in the above paragraph are intended to be humorous. In the author's view of the world, humor is another prerequisite for successfully completing project after project.

If you're an experienced project manager mentoring others, these laws can also be used to orient new PMs to this people-centric, uncertain aspect of their job, and open some experience-based knowledge transfer about how to deal with estimating challenges. Be sure to add your own wisdom to the list!


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