How to Give IT Project Estimates—And When Not to Estimate at All


Everyone wants to know how long a project will take. Here’s how to provide managers with a prediction that’s both accurate and imprecise, using cycle time and counting stories, along with advice on when to avoid estimation altogether.

Estimation is work, too. Many teams account for estimation in their regular flow of work. However, an accurate estimate for a quarter’s worth of work often requires more than the hour or two of estimation as the team proceeds.

There are at least two problems with estimating a quarter’s worth of work: Too often, the requirements aren’t fully defined and, as with Celeste’s team, the estimation interrupts the team from its urgent project work.

The problem is that software estimates are not like an estimate for a road trip. If you live anywhere that has more than one traffic light, you’ve encountered traffic fluctuations. I live in the Boston area, where a drive to the airport can take me 20 minutes or 90 minutes. Most often, it’s in the range of 30 to 45 minutes. That’s substantial variation for an eight-mile drive.

And there’s no innovation in that drive. 

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