Skip to main content

The secret of good estimation

At this time of year, the various departments of the university are planning their activities and budgets for next year.  Applications Division provide the IT component of many new projects, so we are asked to estimate how much time and money will be required or a wide range of proposals.  Most of these proposals are at preliminary stages, with only outline ideas of what will be required.  Given this uncertainty, You might ask what is the secret that lets us produce accurate estimates for all these proposals?

The truth is: we don't.  Of course, we look at our project record to see how much effort was required for similar projects in the past.  This data gives us a guide to the costs of different types of project, such as software procurements, infrastructure upgrades, and software development.  The data also helps us allocate the expected effort across the different teams that will be involved.  But we often don't know exactly what a project will entail and there is usually a large element of uncertainty.

The key is that these estimates should be the start of a conversation, rather than the end of a process.  Although they give people a sense of the likely scale of a project and help us plan our future work, they cannot be set in stone.

For most projects, the work of the project is an ongoing process of knowledge elicitation.  Everyone involved will be aiming to improve their understanding of what the IT system needs to achieve and how it will help people achieve their actual goals.  New features may be proposed, previous assumptions may be overturned, and technical problems may occur.  Often the project team will face a choice: either increase the budget to achieve more features, or reduce the project scope to fit the budget. 

So the budget that accompanies an initial proposal is always provisional, always contingent.  When the project starts, so does the process of refining the estimate as we learn more about the special attributes of that particular project.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…

A new EA Repository

One of my goals since starting this job two years ago has always been to create a repository for architecture documents.  The idea is to have a central store where people can find information about the University's applications, data sources, business processes, and other architectural information.  This store will make it easier for us to explain our plans, to show the current state of the University's information systems, and to explain what Enterprise Architecture is all about.

It's taken a long time to reach this goal, mainly because we're often had more pressing and immediate work to be done.  The creation of a repository is one of those tasks that is very important but never quite urgent.  So I'm now very happy to say that we are in the process of deploying a repository and modelling tool.


This is the culmination of a careful process to select the most appropriate tool for our needs.  We began by organising several workshops to gather requirements from a rang…

A brief summary of our major initiatives

I notice that in 2016 I wrote 34 posts on this blog.  This is only my fifth post in 2017 and we're already three-quarters of the way through the year.  Either I've suddenly got lazier, or else I've had less time to spend writing here.  As I'm not inclined to think of myself as especially lazy, I'm plumping for the latter explanation.

There really is a lot going on.  The University has several major initiatives under way, many of which need input from the Enterprise Architecture section.

The Service Excellence programme is overhauling (the buzzword is "transforming") our administrative processes for HR, Finance, and Student Administration.  Linked to this is a programme to procure an integrated ERP system to replace the adminstrative IT systems. 

Enabling Digital Transformation is a programme to put the middleware and architecture in place so that we can make our processes "digital first".  We're implementing an API framework, a notification…