Scheduling Struggles: Can Pm-Resources Accurately Scope Work?

The Struggle to Accurately Estimate Software Projects

Estimating the effort required to complete software development projects is notoriously difficult. The very nature of software development, with its complexity, changing requirements, and unforeseen challenges, makes accurately scoping out timelines and resources a struggle for even experienced project managers and developers.

Why Estimating is Difficult in Software Development

Several key factors contribute to the challenge of estimating software projects:

  • The intangible nature of software makes measurement difficult
  • Requirements frequently change throughout development
  • It’s hard to anticipate technical challenges that may arise
  • There are often interdependencies between components that complicate scheduling
  • It’s difficult to account for the variability in individual developer productivity

With so many unknown variables, it’s easy to underestimate the level of effort and how long things will take. Perfect estimates are elusive, but project managers strive to define realistic scopes and delivery timelines.

Common Reasons for Inaccurate Estimates

Changing Requirements

Even if the initial requirements are well-defined, stakeholders often request changes as the project progresses, impacting the scope. These changes cascade down to affect dependencies and add work in unexpected areas. To manage this:

  • Lock down core functionality early
  • Build in a process for controlled changes
  • Add buffer time for expected changes

Unforeseen Technical Challenges

Projects often run into unanticipated complex technical hurdles. A few underestimated challenges include:

  • Integration issues between systems or platforms
  • Problems scaling to required performance levels
  • Defects in software components that force rework

The best defense is architecting in layers to isolate impact and conducting robust technical reviews.

Inadequate Understanding of Scope

Project managers may struggle to accurately decompose the full scope of required work. This stems from:

  • Mission creep from ill-defined requirements
  • Components being more intricate than assumed
  • Not considering ancillary work like testing and documentation

Carefully analyzing each feature and validation activity helps prevent surprise scope growth.

Strategies for Improving Estimates

Break Down Projects into Smaller Tasks

Deconstructing epics into granular stories or tasks better encapsulates work and complexity into measurable units. This supports more accurate assignment and tracking.

Build in Buffer Time

Adding contingency time throughout the project schedule accounts for interruptions, minor scope changes, and unforeseen events. Buffer time gives the flexibility to handle surprises without de-railing timelines.

Leverage Historical Data

Analyzing comparable past projects can provide benchmark targets for the effort and duration of project activities based on actuals. Re-use relevant estimation data as anchor points for projections.

Get Multiple Perspectives

Tap into the wisdom of crowds by consulting diverse project contributors to estimate task workloads. Blend technical estimates from architects and developers with experience-based guesses from project managers.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations

Be Transparent About Assumptions

Documenting estimate assumptions validates logic and quantifies risk levels for project priorities. Share these to align stakeholders on uncertainty factors that may impact delivery targets.

Clearly Communicate Risks

Identify potential risks stemming from estimates, like technical hurdles or ambiguous requirements, and qualifying probability/impact. Alert sponsors early to de-risk through validation or exploring alternative approaches.

Focus on Relative Rather Than Absolute Estimates

Anchoring on abstract estimate accuracy often ends poorly. Instead, revisit interim targets and milestones, emphasizing trends against previous cycles. This grounds estimates in empirical evidence.

Adapting Estimates As The Project Progresses

Regularly Revisit and Update

Refresh estimates with every major project change, adjusting for revised scope, new information, and actual velocity trends. Updating projections maintains their relevance over time.

Use Empirical Data to Refine

As work is completed, leverage quantified actuals to extrapolate effort for remaining items, isolated from original guesses. This evolves estimates grounded in field evidence.

Account for New Information

Learnings from each project phase can inform subsequent phase estimates, improving their precision based on insights uncovered mid-project. Incorporate discoveries to refine.

Estimation is Hard But Crucial

While accurately estimating software projects remains challenging, prediction provides business sponsors visibility into delivering value from development investments. Managing uncertainty through empirical feedback and continuous estimation refinement helps project managers set and meet reasonable targets. By diligently scoping work efforts, they fulfill commitments for strategic initiatives counting on software capabilities. There are no shortcuts, but many roads lead to success.

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