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Avoiding the Downward Spiral of Poor Project Estimates

Posted Mar 12 2010 5:05am

Bad estimates lead to bad cost projections which ultimately equate to poor delivery. The problem being when estimates are needed for efforts to be completed to project costs. Often a project is estimated for resource effort before it is budgeted. Therein lies the problem. The estimator is rarely the individual doing the work and the amount of work may not be fully understood. Another issue is the skill of the individual doing the estimate, the work it takes one individual to do in 12 hours may take another individual 4 depending on the experience and talent. However your individual with 4 hours is probably backloaded with work.

The best estimates often come from the individual accountable for doing the task at hand, there is a sense of ownership among the team and individual of the estimate. There is also a shared understanding for how the project work was estimated. So how can we get better estimates in Healthcare IT?

  1. Ask the vendor - Often if you are purchasing or implementing a system, during contracting ask the vendor for the amount of effort. Good vendors will share their resource estimates and effort. I know McKesson and Cerner have these to help the organization understand how much effort they need to pony up. Poor vendors will tell you that they do all the work. Truthfully, in my almost 2 decades of experience, I have never been engaged in implementing a system where the vendor did all the work.
  2. Have the resources accountable for implementation assist with the RFP evaluation- The best way to bring your team is to have them partake in the RFI, RFP efforts. During the evaluation of the RFPs, have them estimate implementation efforts. Not only does this help have a solution resolved upon a needs assessment, but the requirements are now known.
  3. Always have staff do the estimate - While it may be hard, let staffing have the final estimates to verify and assure they are comfortable. Once on a project all of the estimation was completed by a senior technology director. This individual was new to the organization and not familiar with how interwoven the old technology (Novell File Servers) where to the organization. The estimate provided to retire was way too short of a timeframe and didn't consider some integration points with the mainframe. Having the staff review the estimate and rework it, provided an opportunity to properly frame the project effort
It is best to deploy all three of these practices to improve the art of estimating. Having better estimates will help with the overall portfolio health, and decrease the amount of technical debt incurred.

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