Diagnosing Estimation Problems

Estimation problems almost always boil down to estimates that are either too high or too low. Padded estimates, where the team intentionally overestimates in order to give themselves extra time, are a chronic source of estimates that are too high. Senior managers giving unrealistic, overly aggressive deadlines are a chronic source of estimates that are too low. In both cases, this can lead to morale problems.

There is a basic tug-of-war going on here. Engineers prefer higher estimates, giving them as much time and as little pressure as possible to do their work. Managers prefer to deliver things more quickly, in order to please stakeholders. The only way for a project manager to avoid this conflict is to work with the team to produce estimates that are as accurate as possible. By adopting a sound estimation process that allows the team and the project manager to reach a consensus on the effort involved in the work, the morale is maintained and the work is much more predictable.

Padded Estimates Generate Distrust

In some organizations, the project team drives the entire estimation process and the project manager simply builds a schedule around their estimates. This can be comfortable for the team, but it does not always work well for the organization, and it can eventually lead to an environment where the managers don't trust the programmers.

There are many reasons why estimates are wrong that have nothing to do with the work being done. Software engineers ...

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