Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Gutless Estimating" - Excerpts from "The Mythical Man-Month"

The following is a excerpt from the classic book "The Mythical Man-Month".
Read on the following paragraph carefully. Sit back, close your eyes and think for the next 2 minutes. Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. the "father of the IBM System/360," has written these lines 20 years ago. So little has changed over these 20 years...

Gutless Estimating

Observe that for the programmer, as for the chef, the urgency of the patron may govern the scheduled completion of the task, but it cannot govern the actual completion. An omelette, promised in two minutes, may appear to be progressing nicely. But when it has not set in two minutes, the customer has two choices—wait or eat it raw. Software customers have had the same choices.

The cook has another choice; he can turn up the heat. The result is often an omelette nothing can save—burned in one part, raw in another.

Now I do not think software managers have less inherent courage and firmness than chefs, nor than other engineering managers. But false scheduling to match the patron's desired date is much more common in our discipline than elsewhere in engineering. It is very difficult to make a vigorous, plausible, and job-risking defense of an estimate that is derived by no quantitative method, supported by little data, and certified chiefly by the hunches of the managers.

Clearly two solutions are needed. We need to develop and publicize productivity figures, bug-incidence figures, estimating rules, and so on. The whole profession can only profit from sharing such data.

Until estimating is on a sounder basis, individual managers will need to stiffen their backbones and defend their estimates with the assurance that their poor hunches are better than wish-derived estimates.


Anonymous said...


Do you use any estimation process for the testing projects that you work on.

Appreciate your comments on this as this would throw light on others as to what and how to use & perform estimation.


Rajesh Kazhankodath said...

Good question. I do not use any standard techniques, but I'll rather publish a blogpost on this topic.

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