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Step Seven: Estimate Validation and Review

Step Seven: Estimate Validation and Review

At this point in the process, your estimate should already be reasonably good-but it may not be as good as you think. It is important to verify your methods and your results in a step called validation, which is simply a systematic confirmation of the integrity of an estimate. By validating the estimate, you can be more confident that your data is sound, your methods are effective, your results are accurate, and your focus is properly directed.

It may be tempting to skip this review due to a lack of time, personnel or budget, and there is the unappealing possibility that a close examination may reveal faults in the logic of your process. Nevertheless, the costs involved in performing a proper validation will be dramatically less than the cost overruns that are likely to develop during a poorly managed software project.

There are many ways to validate an estimate. Both the process used to build the estimate and the estimate itself must be evaluated. Ideally, the validation should be performed by someone who was not involved in generating the estimate itself, who can view it objectively. The analyst validating an estimate should employ different methods, tools and separately collected data than were used in the estimate under review.

When reviewing an estimate you must assess the assumptions made during the estimation process. Make sure that the adopted ground rules are consistently applied throughout the estimate. Below-the-line costs and the risk associated with extraordinary requirements may have been underestimated or overlooked, while productivity estimates may have been overstated. The slippery slope of requirements creep may have created more uncertainty than was accounted for in the original estimate.

A rigorous validation process will expose faulty assumptions, unreliable data and estimator bias, providing a clearer understanding of the risks inherent in your projections. Having isolated problems at their source, you can take steps to contain the risks associated with them, and you will have a more realistic picture of what your project will actually require to succeed.

Despite the costs of performing one, a formal validation should be scheduled into every estimation project, before the estimate is used to establish budgets or constraints on your project process or product engineering. Failing to do so may result in much greater downstream costs, or even a failed project.

Magic bullets: Some projects hinge upon a key technology or assumption, a technical leap affectionately known as a magic bullet. Sometimes magic bullets hit their marks, but more often they misfire. If your estimate relies on an unproven technical assumption, evaluate its chance of failure and how that would impact the project.

Unrealistic schedules: Overworked developers are not efficient developers, and no amount of overtime will compensate for a too-short development schedule. If your assessment reveals unrealistic scheduling, consider parallelizing development tasks or, better yet, scale back the software to fit the available schedule.

Step Six: Quantifying Risks and Risk Analysis

Coming Next:
Step Eight: Generate a Project Plan

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