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Why is software project estimation so often wrong?

July 11, 2013 1 Comment

Thanks to Michael Swain (via a Facebook post), I ran across this explanation of why software projects are so often underestimated:

Let’s take a hike on the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit our friends in Newport Beach. I’ll whip out my map and draw our route down the coast:

The line is about 400 miles long; we can walk 4 miles per hour for 10 hours per day, so we’ll be there in 10 days. We call our friends and book dinner for next Sunday night, when we will roll in triumphantly at 6 p.m. They can’t wait!

We get up early the next day giddy with the excitement of fresh adventure.  We strap on our backpacks, whip out our map, and plan our first day. We look at the map. Uh oh…

Go read the whole thing.

What the answer doesn’t point out is the pre-existing problem: clearly, no one in the party has ever made this type of trek before, and so they don’t realize the fallacies in their assumptions. This is why the ageism so present in the IT industry is self-defeating; my standard quip is that younger coders and managers not only end up re-inventing the wheel, more often than not they end up re-inventing the flat tire.  ..bruce..


About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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  1. Sandy Sage | October 18, 2013

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