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Poor Estimation: Major Root Cause of Project Failure

  • July 18, 2009
  • Updated on: November 14, 2022

I find it interesting how many people just go forward without a clue as to what is involved in developing and operating an IT system.  I spent the week at the birthplace of root cause analysis.  What a pleasure to hear leaders state “amazing” that they could get visibility into the cost, schedule, risk and reliability of a system.  And to hear them identify their current estimating difficulties as a root cause of project failure.  Here are a few typical scenarios:

1. Don’t estimate at all: We will go forward and do good things…and tell you when we are done.

2. Estimate based on simple guessing: We think we can do it for x in y time.  But why?  How is it repeatable? How can we improve?

3. Estimates reduced by mandate: Decent estimates that are politically incorrect, often reduced considerably to meet an impossible deadline or cost.

When the estimate is bad, the associated plan (you do have a plan, don’t you?) is doomed from the start.  Expectations are not met, shortcuts are taken attempting to make up the time, business value is lost as projects are late or canceled.

I also have to shake my head when I see programs that use earned value to track but do not have a viable baseline to track from.

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