SPA Conference session: Dealing With The Estimation Fallacy

One-line description:A presentation & discussion on why estimation is futile and what we can do about it
Session format: Goldfish bowl (75 mins) [read about the different session types]
Abstract:There seems to be a widely held misconception that modern software development practices make us more predictable. It is my belief that they don't and unfortunately there's nothing that will, certainly not to the level that our customer's demand of us.

After doing a fair bit of investigation I've found some highly significant evidence as to why this is the case. I'd like to present my findings to the session participants and then get everyone involved in a group discussion.

For more insight into my thoughts, I've written a lot about estimation on my blog:

In the presentation section I will explain why I think estimation is such a futile task. I will cover some known estimation techniques and theories which should explain why we'll never get any better at estimating.

This will be followed by a goldfish bowl style group discussion where the group will be asked to discuss how we can better deal with the paradox of the customer's requirement to need to know when it's done and our inability to do so. There is no right answer and I'm genuinely interested to see what people think and hope we can go away with some good ideas.

To present insight into why we are so bad at estimating and come away with useful ideas to deal with this. The presentation will avoid providing answers (partly because I don't really have any) & it's hoped that in the following discussion people will address the realities of the role of software development and estimating in relation to our organisations and customers and suggest more practical ways we can fulfill the need that currently compels us to do it.
Audience background:Anyone involved in software development
Benefits of participating:Anyone who's anyone involved in building software will have a story to tell about how they got royally shafted by being "committed" to an estimate. By explaining why we are never going to be able to fulfill the demands put upon us discussing as a group how we can get around this hopefully we'll come up with some ideas as to how to solve this problem and also go away bold enough to do something that will prevent us falling into the same trap again and again.
Materials provided:a ppt presentation
Process:This will be a presentation followed by a goldfish bowl discussion
Detailed timetable:- 00:00 - 00:20 Presentation
- 00:20 - 01:15 Goldfish Bowl discussion

However, this is only an estimate.
Outputs:PPT slides will be available and the output of the goldfish bowl will be written up on flip chart paper on the wall as we go which I will transcribe and make available online.
History:Previously run at BBC Worldwide and XPDay 2008
1. Rob Bowley
BBC Worldwide
2. 3.