Bad estimates make it impossible to deliver on-time and on-budget

The Standish Group’s CHAOS report, published annually since 1996, gauges software development projects on the basis of on-time (schedule) and on-budget (cost) delivery that meets stakeholder needs. With success rates less than 50% for 25 years, pundits speculate on annual causes seeking to improve the percentages the following year.

Certainly the advent and institutionalizing of agile software development methods increased the figures from the dismal 35% statistics to the more palatable 43% project success, but through the years, little attention has been focused on one of the core reasons for not achieving on-time and on-budget delivery: the immaturity and unrealistic estimates themselves.

Given a propensity to be overly-optimistic, software teams over the years routinely under-estimate the effort, and duration of software development, while at the same time ignoring the risks and inherent uncertainties associated with the creative process. While it should be obvious that on-time and on-budget relies on realistic, historical data-based estimates, the situation is anything but.

Overly optimistic, unrealistic, and single value estimates (instead of a range) contribute to the poor-estimate problem, as does the lack of formal estimating processes. This is the topic of a series of upcoming blog posts based on observations gathered as the lead author for the International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association (ICEAA) Software Cost Estimating Body of Knowledge (CEBoK-S). When our industry increases the maturity of software cost estimating and takes a serious look at data-founded estimating, project success rates will increase. Join me on a software cost estimating journey.

Notes to my 10 year-old self

I know that this a departure from the usual Musings about Software Development posts on Cost Estimation or Functional Size Measurement or even leadership, but I’m going to go out on a limb and hope that at least a few readers might enjoy it.  I was going through my personal blog archives today and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) were always in my future, even at age 10. Between then and now, I’ve travelled the world and spoken in over 30 countries pre-COVID.  I’ve worked with some amazing people who are doing incredible things with software development worldwide, and many do so to make the world a better place.  Some of them are even volunteers for organizations or writing ISO standards.  This post is simply a personal look back at some of the things I wish I knew when I was frantically raising my two kids, working feverishly to provide a happy home, and financial stability, and thinking that I could have it all (believe me, I’m learning the price of giving things your all, as I still ended up losing in an imbalanced divorce.) Let me know if any of this blog post resonates with you.  Be well.

Note to Self

Preamble: As I look back at my 10-year old self, it’s hard to believe so many years have passed.  I’m still the same person by nature (DNA) but experiences (nurture) has shaped me.

Back then, I was a painfully shy Catholic schoolgirl who was book smart, curious (about science, boys, other countries, languages), scared stiff about God (the fear of dying in the night didn’t abate when my father said it could happen), and a bit of a tomboy.

Woman Standing on Brown Wooden Plank

My life at 10 was one of discovery: I felt I was in perpetual winter (Alberta had 8 months of snow!) and longed for trips and travel. As the oldest of 5, I was fiercely independent and I already had a bucket list — self-made millionaire (still on the list), finding true love (ditto), living in the tropics (check), and growing up to be someone I’d admire (self-love is key.)

Hind-sight is…

View original post 1,176 more words

Throwback Thursday: Childproof your Metrics Program for Success

Reprising this blog – first posted on Jan 25, 2012…

Childproof your Metrics Program…

As a new parent years ago, I remember childproofing household dangers like electrical outlets, and raising adult objects above my children’s reach.  Over the years, new hazards appeared and it took planning to stay a step ahead to prevent injury or damage to innocent children.

I remembered this when I thought about what could be done to avoid software metrics failures – perhaps a form of “childproofing” could avoid a few of the dangers involved.

Software measurement is NOT rocket science (despite the claims of a few eager consultants), but neither is it child’s play.  Measurement must be properly planned or it can actually cause more damage than help!

You likely recall Tom DeMarco‘s famous “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” statement, but may not be aware of his later observation that poorly planned metrics can damage an organization.

Read on…



Think you’re a Good Collaborator? Check out our Top 10 Collaboration Killers

(This is a follow-up to my post in July 2019:  Bias is the Kryptonite to Collaboration.)

Collaboration. It’s one of the tenets of the new Heart of Agile and central to all agile practices today.  Effective collaboration increases communication, encourages creativity, lowers rework, improves morale and delivers better products. Many of us consider ourselves pretty good at communication and collaboration, yet I’ve discovered some silent habits we have that kill collaboration in its tracks.  This post is a Top 10 Checklist for professionals in all industries that tests whether you harbor some of these silent collaboration killers.

We already know how…

As humans, we instinctively know how to collaborate – we do it all day, every day in our personal lives as we interact with friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers. When we throw Super Bowl parties or have friends over for dinner, collaboration is second nature and flows easily in the kitchen.  As adults, we’re practiced communicators, we know how to act in public and nurture our private relationships. We’re typically good at cooperation, communication, emotional intelligence and critical thinking with our partners, friends, family and, even strangers.  (While this is not a given across all of society, I’m assuming that if you’re reading this post, it’s true for you.)

To me, it seems ironic that these same collaboration skills seem to atrophy once we cross the thresholds of our work.

Millions are spent on Corporate Training

Case in point — Corporate America spends millions of dollars every year training professionals on how to better collaborate and communicate, yet recent studies (2019) show workplace morale at all-time lows: One study cites a whopping 75% of US workers are unhappy, a second shows 80% of professionals reporting career blockage due to emotional issues at work.

The Connection!

I believe that there is a direct connection between the lack of collaboration skills at work and the levels of workplace dissatisfaction — and it stems from an unconscious lack of respect and love for our co-workers.  I’ve seen silent collaboration killers in every board room and war room, and I profess that if we acted at home as we do at work, we’d all be unattached with few friends.

The following checklist is a Top 10 list of (silent and not-so-silent) Collaboration Killers that sabotage our projects.  Maybe you’ll recognize one or two (or more) and see yourself in the mix.  The good news is that these are easy to overcome with recognition and practice! Which of these are most dominant in your workplace?

(Note that a description of each follows the checklist.)

Top 10 Collaboration Killers – CHECKLIST

  1. The Eye Roll / Heavy Sigh.
  2. The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
  3. Shoot the Messenger.
  4. Dunce Capping.
  5. The Shut Down.
  6. Sarcasm (passed off as irony or wit.)
  7. Confirmation Bias.
  8. Okay Boomer, Okay Millennial.
  9. The Charlie Brown Teacher.
  10. Selective Blindness (or selective hearing.)

 Top 10 Collaboration Killers

  1. The Eye Roll / Heavy Sigh. We’ve all seen this in action – it is one of the quickest ways to show bias and disapproval to an entire room without saying a word. (So ingrained is this habit in our culture that even small children mimic and master it.) The Heavy Sigh is often used together with the Eye Roll to provide emphasis of the disdain. The impact of this killer increases when used by management.
  2. The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Many of you can recall the fable of the emperor who was fooled into thinking he was wearing the finest suit in public (as convinced by his expert tailors) and paraded through the village naked, before someone finally exposed the truth. Today’s the term is used as slang on Urban Dictionary: “The Emperor Wears No Clothes… is often used in political and social contexts for any obvious truth denied by the majority <sic, management> despite the evidence of their eyes, especially when proclaimed… When people say “The emperor wears no clothes”, they mean that other people need to stop being *** kissers to a political leader and see things for what they truly are instead of denying the truth of the situation.  It takes a person with guts to speak the truth and blast through the bs and lies.”  It must be safe for staff to raise issues and challenge the “truth” for collaboration to live.
  3. Shoot the Messenger.  We’ve all witnessed this when someone delivers factual (aka honest) information and is chided with “No, no, no! That’s not true… don’t you tell me that… !”  This is a verbal killer that stops collaboration (and truthful information) in its tracks.  Banish this habit.
  4. Dunce Capping. We can laugh at movies where a comedic movie depicts a dunce cap, but the impact on the “dunce” is profound.  Today, the public ridicule killer is equally harmful.  The danger is that the practice is often innocuous:  someone asks a question that the recipient judges as being obvious and the response kills collaboration:  “Did you seriously just ask me that question? Wow!  Go back to your desk and figure it out, what a stupid question…” I stand firm in my belief that 99% of questions raised in groups are not obvious (no one likes to be shamed for a lack of knowledge.)
  5. The Shut Down. Agile teams talk about the value of “early failures” but in reality, this is anything but the truth. Delivery time pressure still trumps late corrections when defects are discovered close to production.  The Shut Down involves chiding such as “That’s an enhancement. You know we don’t have the time for that today – we’ll work on it later (post-delivery.)  Even scrum masters are humans who want to avoid the wrath of management when delivery is late.
  6. Sarcasm (passed off as irony or wit.) We’ve all seen sarcasm at work – someone spouts a sarcastic remark to what could have become a valid idea. When the target reacts in astonishment, they are chided for being too sensitive because they can’t take a joke. Leadership expert Brene Brown takes sarcasm to its roots (the Greek word means to “tear flesh,” and is a cruel form of indirect communication.  Consider curbing your sarcasm at work if you want to increase collaboration.
  7. Confirmation Bias. This is a BIG one because we’re all guilty of it without even realizing it(in and out of work) but it becomes especially damaging when we aren’t aware of it at work. Without even thinking, we can dismiss valuable contributions if they come from someone we’ve already judged we don’t respect. A silent collaboration killer.
  8. Okay boomer, okay millennial… Cultural bias. Similar to #7 but based on our opinion (or ignorance) of anyone different from us (from another country, culture, generation, religion, financial status, etc.) we summarily dismiss valid input because we can’t see past the face that delivers it. We hear the words or ideas, then quickly dismiss them because they are spoken/written by someone older, less intelligent, poorer, less educated or simply “different” from us.  Collaboration squashed.
  9. The Charlie Brown Teacher. If you’ve ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon, you’ll recognize this from as the teacher of character Peppermint Patty (who she refers to as “Sir”.) The words spoken are completely tuned out and whatever is said is unintelligible.  This is related to the Biases, but rather than listening and dismissing ideas based on the source, we dismiss the words entirely before even hearing them.
  10. Selective Blindness (or selective hearing.) Related to #9, this practice is the subject of the running joke of longtime married couples where one partner doesn’t hear (or see) when the other speaks.  In workplaces, this practice can also develop where certain people are rendered invisible (worse than bias) and their contribution is not seen or heard.  At my own family gatherings, I witnessed this in terms of sexism on the part of my father.  We’d be having a nice dinner with a large family group of 10 or more and the conversation was flowing.  At some point, I’d say something and my father would not respond at all.  Then my now ex-husband would restate the exact same words as his own and my father would instantly “wake up” and say how great the comment was.  Regardless of my response (“I just stated that”) both my ex and my father continued the practice until I finally stopped contributing anything when family dinners arose. Selective Blindness kills collaboration.

How many of these silent killers lurk in the hallways or boardrooms in your company?  How many are part of your own repertoire of workplace habits?

misunderstandWould you help me by joining in on a discussion?


Webinar: Executive Overview of Functional Size Measurement (Function Points): Part 1 The Basics (free!)

What do you think?  Comments?

Heart of Agile holds Promise as a Silver Bullet

Have you heard about Dr Alistair Cockburn’s Heart of Agile concept? In Alistair’s words, it’s a radical simplification of Agile into four fundamental words: Collaborate, Deliver, Reflect and Improve. As one of the original cast of the Agile Manifesto, Alistair has a wealth of knowledge and insight about all things agile, and I was thrilled to learn about the human-centric ideas in this new Heart of Agile concept.

While the premise of Agile condensed into four words, might, at first glance, appear too simple for some (as an engineer, I know we value complexity) or too unsophisticated (marketers seek innovative words) or even too basic for seasoned agilists (Scrum touts over 100 key learnings), when you peel the onion that is the Heart of Agile, at its core is the essence (the heart) of bringing humanity to work. It means embracing the essential soft skills (social awareness, emotional intelligence, empathy, acceptance, communication, diversity, active listening) that we already use for success in everyday life outside of work. It’s simple and yet complex at the same time.

And, it just might hold promise in the pursuit of the proverbial management “silver bullet.”

To me, the Heart of Agile is really about getting back to the basics of how we should be behaving at work, not how we were taught to behave when we’re in a corporate environment. I like that.

Lately, when Alistair talks about the personality of those who espouse the Heart of Agile, I think about a Corporate Personality – one where acceptance and community are the norm, where innovation and creativity are truly valued. Contrast that with the dominant “command and control” personality prevalent in so many companies, including agile companies, today.

The Agile Manifesto promoted “people over process” and “working <products> over documentation” yet the strict adherence to Scrum and other policies and procedures today, seems to defy those very tenets. Agile was supposed to be about a better way of people working with people to build better solutions, together. (Certainly, this has been happening, but…)

Consider recent statistics citing a whopping 70% of Americans who are unhappy at work, and (in a separate study) 80% of workers saying emotional-based issues block their career advancement. Now, combine that with the looming STEM worker crisis (a deficit of 3.7 million skilled workers by the year 2030), the exorbitant cost of replacing skilled talent, and a burgeoning millennial workforce that values quality of life over “working for the man”, and the Heart of Agile becomes a “no-brainer.”

I believe that companies that invest in (and value) soft skills today will grow a workforce tomorrow where people are treated with dignity and respect, and reap the benefits of higher profits. When millennials dominate the workplace (by 2030 there will be more millennial-aged workers than had any prior generation) – gone will be the “Stepford Wife” corporations with rote protocols and robotic adherence to procedures.

Successful companies of tomorrow will value soft skills more than technical prowess. The tide is already turning in high tech corporations where HR executives emphasize personality (people) skills over technical skills. “It’s easier to teach technical skills, to people, than soft skills to techies,” is a frequent refrain. Welcome to the Heart of Agile.

Today, I’m proud to say I’m part of an undercurrent of technical professionals worldwide who are part of the growing Heart of Agile community. The concepts we discuss (including emotional intelligence, feedback, Scrum, living agile, culture of listening, overcoming barriers to collaboration, Shu Ha Ri and Kokoro, honesty, trust, self-acceptance, measurement, diversity, appreciation, and others), are refreshingly technology-agnostic and human-centric. And, the concepts merge well with what I’ve taught in my classes for years – communication and humanity is the key to measurement, technology, project management and … work.

Want to know more? The Heart of Agile has a webpage, a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group, and an emerging network of MeetUp groups worldwide (Tampa and Boulder USA, Argentina, Chile and others in South America, Australia, Scotland, Belgium, France, Austria, Serbia and others.)

Join us and be a part of this positive, optimistic, human-centric Heart of Agile community!

To your success! Carol

Culture Clashes at Work – Fact or Fiction?

I come across a ton of articles about workplace dynamics and how the current rate of unhappiness at work hovers around 70%!

70% – wow!  This means that almost 3 out of 4 workers spend a huge portion of their waking hours, dissatisfied.  Put another way, if you happen to be in the 30%, you’re surrounded by unhappy colleagues.  If you’re in the 70%, it’s a miserable place to be.

unhappyWhat is the source of such massive discontent at work?

According to Inc. magazine, (Dec 2017) there are 10 Science-Backed Reasons You’re Unhappy at Work

  • Your boss. One huge reason for unhappiness at work is your boss. …
  • Your co-workers. We are surrounded by others in our office all day long. …
  • The type of work you are doing. Many do not enjoy the type of work they are doing.
  • Your attitude. …
  • The commute. …
  • Stagnant growth. …
  • Lack of appreciation. …
  • Overworking.
  • Jealousy of your friends.
  • What your company stands for.

As agile practitioners, measurement specialists and IT people (my readers) – I wonder if there is isn’t also a Culture Clash – constantly having to answer questions and explain why we do what we do (5W’s and How about technology) – that contributes to discontent.

I believe that (in most companies), we have a minimum of three distinct cultures at work – (each with its own language, set of goals, and behavioral norms):

  • Business
  • IT (and technology pros)
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • etc.

Geert Hofstede (Software of the Mind, circa 1980’s) developed a model of Cultural Dimensions that delineated National (country specific) Culture in 5 dimensions:

Image result for cultural dimensions

I believe a similar construct could be made to delineate the differences between Workplace Cultures.  We walk around all day speaking the same physical language (English in the US) – yet our work languages are vastly different.


Similar to how countries (and states within many countries) are unique, workplace cultures present unique cultural challenges/opportunities.

What do you think?  Is it research worth pursuing?

I’d love to hear your comments… Carol

Bias: It’s like Kryptonite to Collaboration

Collaborate: the concept is so ingrained with agile development that it’s one of the four components of Alistair Cockburn’s simplified Heart of Agile approach (along with Deliver, Reflect and Improve.)  Yet, collaboration has an “achilles heel”, a Kryptonite of sorts, that no one really talks about:  Bias.

Before we get into the roots of Bias and its effects, let’s explore what’s at the core of Collaboration.


To collaborate (according to Google Dictionary) is to

cooperate, join (up), join forces, team up, get together, come together, band together, work together, work jointly, participate, unite, combine, merge, link, ally, associate, amalgamate, integrate, form an alliance, pool resources, club together,  fraternize, conspire, collude, cooperate, consort, sympathize…

Collaboration relies on a combination of team skills: listening, communicating, connecting, cooperating, observing, and setting aside personal agendas and opinion.

Bias is like Kryptonite to Collaboration

Bias creeps in innocuously while we’re truly practicing our good communication skills; it can coat our words and can jade our thought process without us even being aware of it.  At best, bias skews our creativity, at worst, it kills trust and collaboration.

While we may not perceive bias in ourselves or others (“after all, we’re open and honest professionals doing our best”) – it’s there.

The good news is that Bias is like the iceberg below the surface that we didn’t know was there, and once we’re aware its there, we can dismantle its effects.

Through conscious practice and exercises, our awareness of our own biases can increase and we can override its effects.

Types of Bias

Bias comes in a variety of flavors and styles – and, we all have it in one way or another. The first step to overcoming bias is to recognize and acknowledge it in ourselves.

What kind of bias(es) do you hold?  I’ve condensed the list of bias types (from data analytics and psychology sites) and added examples for agile projects:

  1. Confirmation Bias – We skew our observation of an event, concept, person in a way that confirms our already held belief.  A pattern of highlighting news that agrees with the agenda of the left or right, and ignoring the other side.
    Example:  Changes are needed to a delivered report because legislation changed (fact), and we think “Typical of the users always changing their minds” (confirms our belief.)
  2. Attribution Bias – We attribute an action to someone based on their personality (flaws) rather than the situation.
    Example:  The project is delayed because testing isn’t finished.  We think:  “the tester doesn’t know what they are doing” (attributing it to a personality flaw) rather than looking at the situation of tester work overload.
  3. Commitment Bias – Continuing to invest in a derailed project because of the sunk costs already committed (time/effort/money.)
    Example: We think: How can we bail on this project after we’ve already spent a year and $500K on it?
  4. Labeling Bias – We (un)consciously describe or label a person/group in a way that influences how we think about them.
    Example:  We think marketing (people) have no clue about technology (so why ask them for input)?
  5. Spin Bias – We accept only one interpretation (ours) of an event or policy to the exclusion of the other.
    Example:  We spin the news (especially when there is a gap):  China banned cryptocurrencies, so it must be because of… (nefarious financial dealings…)
  6. Spurious Correlation Bias – We believe causality (without checking) between two potentially (un)related events or circumstances.
    Example:  Gas prices always go up before a long weekend.
  7. Omission Bias – Leaving out important information/people (certain facts or details) on a project because we don’t see its relevance.
    Example:  We didn’t think of including IT folks in a renovation project meetings (we omitted the importance of moving the network…)
  8. Not like Me Bias – Dismissing information or ideas because of the source or group generating it.
    Example:  We think that new hires have no idea about how our company works (when their input may be fresh and show us new ways to work.)

When we allow these unconscious biases to influence how we send or receive information, we stymie true collaboration.

What biases do you see in yourself and your workplace?  When I, personally realize I have a particular bias, I make a conscious effort to pause before responding.  When I’m prone to say something that would block collaboration (words like “we can’t do that…” or even the seemingly innocent thought in my head like “what on earth?” I try to stop and ask myself why I would think that.  Pausing to reflect and see the part that my unconscious bias plays, really helps me to collaborate better.  Might it work for you?

Would you Play Along?

Over the coming weeks, please join me in a new blog series called “The 5% Social Experiment” where I’ll post some easy social experiments to identify and overcome workplace bias.

Can I count on you to play along?


Chicken and Egg and Agile: What comes first Hard or Soft skills?

How would YOU answer this question?

Stereotypically people answer based on their experience and expertise:  

  • technical pros choose hard skills first (programming, math, logistics, complex problem solving,) because they involve complexity and are quantifiable. Soft skills are seen as qualitative (less value) and simpler (aka “fluff”) and easier to learn on the job;    
  • business people choose soft skills first (communication, emotional intelligence, listening, time management, collaboration) because it can be impossible to work with people who lack them. Technical skills, they reason, are easier to learn. 

Ultimately, we need a combination.  The most successful agile teams possess a combination of both skills: clear communication, understanding, empathy, time management, collaboration AND technical competency.

Oft cited research states that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills (people skills) and 15% is a result of technical skills and knowledge.  Software development used to be an anomaly to this, but no more.

A Look at SD History 

A mere 30 years ago, engineers and computer scientists owned software development: programming was a specialized skill that afforded coders both job security and relative seclusion.  In the beginning, before SDLC (software development life cycle) methodologies, users wrote out bits of requirements and passed them over (“the wall”) to programmers who turned them into computer programs using “code and fix.”  Interactions between the business and IT (information technology) were isolated, formal, and controlled. 

I remember colleagues 25 years ago lamenting that “software development would be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with users.”

Fast forward to today’s agile environment where communication, collaboration and frequent software deployment are norms.  Co-located open space team areas replace rows of stoic IBM coders working in isolation and according to a recent Career Builder study: 77% of employers now believe that soft skills are equally as important as “hard” or “technical” skills in the work environment. 

Yet… technical professionals go into their professions for the same reasons they always did: to solve complex problems based on math and science.

The Value of Soft Skills

Reading stories of agile transformation success leads one to think that every workplace is like Google:  teams of co-workers celebrating each other’s differences, playing games at work, seeking to maximize their collaboration – the perfect combination of soft and hard skills. 

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by analyzing 15 years’ worth of hiring, firing, and promotion data.

This project led to the surprising discovery that hard skills come in last among the top seven qualities of Google’s top employees.

“The top 7 characteristics of a successful Google employee are in fact:

  1. Being a good coach
  2. Communicating and listening well
  3. Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view)
  4. Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
  5. Being a good critical thinker and problem solver
  6. Being able to make connections across complex ideas
  7. STEM expertise

If nearly all of the top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills, then there is a strong argument for investment in those skills being not just a sound investment, but a vital one.”

Can soft skills be learned?

The jury is out on this – some say yes (emotional intelligence, awareness, communications classes) while others profess that soft skills are personality based.  

What is YOUR experience – do you think soft skills can be learned? 

Have we reached the Shangri-la in software development with agile?  

How would you answer this post: What comes first in agile – soft skills or hard skills?

Thank you in advance for your comments.


Reprise: Software Cost Estimating, If You Don’t Know What, You Can’t Estimate How… and ICEAA TAMPA

I first published the article listed below in 2014 – A WHOLE 5 years ago, and as I prepare to present at next week’s ICEAA (International Cost Estimation and Analysis Association) Professional Development and Training workshop (conference)next week in Tampa, I realize just how important a topic it was (and is today!)

Comments welcome!  Here’s the original blog post reposted for your enjoyment:


One of the biggest (and not so obvious) reasons that software estimation goes awry is that amateur estimators don’t always realize how important it is to figure out the “object of estimation” – that is, what it is that we want to estimate. 

I’ve addressed this issue on several occasions – through a set of 4 blog posts called “First see the elephant in the room (the what you are estimating…)”

This week, I did a blog post for QSM, Inc. on the same topic.  Let me know what you think.

21 if you dont know the what