The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Precision, projects and generating corporate support

One of the interesting Dilbert moments I've had at various times was the recognition of the concern some folks have with degrees of uncertainty. If you're asked how much a project will cost or how much benefit it will provide and you come up with an answer like: "somewhere in the low 6 digits", many times it will be rejected or at a minimum you'll be asked to dig into the numbers and be more exact before it's accepted. If you tell someone it will be $123,456.78, not only will they accept it, they'll be impressed.

Everyone knows that this kind of precision is not realistic when defining projects, but people are more comfortable because of the level of detail provided. They can deal with any inaccuracies, since most of the time numbers early in the project aren't right anyway. People seem to be more willing to accept a figure that they highly suspect is wrong over a range of numbers provided with a degree of uncertainty.

Some more experienced folks recognize this behavior and become suspicious of arbitrary precision, while others relish the details of how precise estimates are generated. It's probably best to find out what's "good enough" from the decision makers perspective at the current stage of the project. A few trial balloons can't hurt.

Labels: Estimating
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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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