Conference archive


Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 4:15pm to 5:15pm

Project Estimation: Myths, Taboos, and Inconvenient Truths

Too many of us continue to suffer through schedule-driven crunch mode and cost overruns. We all know the usual suspects, including bad estimates and changing requirements. But what if we set aside myths and embraced reality? Estimates are uncertain, but that doesn’t make them bad—only inconvenient. We can’t manage away the uncertainty, but we can choose where it lands. Robert Merrill believes that our longing for stable requirements tells us where the uncertainty wants to be—in the scope. What if we stopped fighting it? What if we broke the taboo and said we’re done with crunch mode, with sacrificing productivity and quality to prove how committed we are and how hard we tried? When we place the estimation uncertainty in the scope and manage accordingly, we can stabilize both requirements and estimates, naturally, as projects proceed. Leave with a clear understanding of the roots of the estimation problem, and the necessary confidence and conversation tools to try different—not harder.

Robert Merrill
University of Wisconsin-Madison

As a hurricane scientist in the 1980s, Robert Merrill knew estimation was about forecasting and response. (Control never crossed his mind.) As a scientific applications programmer in the 1990s, Robert honed his estimation skills in self-defense against project management. In 2003, asked to create a failure-proof application contracting and delivery process, Robert finally faced the reality of the estimation problem and grasped the business essence of project success. His target-budget, variable-scope approach helped turn around his projects to profitability, referenceability, and sustainability. He then spent seven years as an independent consultant, refining the principles and making them clear and convincing. Robert presently serves the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a project intake specialist and business analyst.