Towards sanity in software project estimation: a chat with Steve McConnell

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Executives and managers tend by nature to be more assertive than rank-and-file technical staff, which is not a problem. The problem is that they assume, incorrectly, that technical staff will be assertive with them if they need to be, and that isn't the case. Technical staff often feel that they're being very assertive, but an objective observer would probably say the technical people cave in far too easily.

Business executives with non-technical backgrounds don't have any objective ability to judge the analytical validity of an estimate, so they probe the person they're talking with to see where they hit that person's point of discomfort, and they make an assessment based on that. Technical people who don't push back hard enough, soon enough, are implicitly sending a message that they can do more than they really can. When I talk with executives, I emphasize that they need to account for the fact that technical people are intimidated by them.

When I talk to technical people, I emphasize that they can usually be far more assertive than they are without worrying about that looking bad. Most executives assume the people around them are as assertive as they are, but that isn't true—there's a reason that they're executives!

cio.com: I don't think I've ever seen someone make that point before. And it's utterly accurate, especially since a lot of developers don't trust their managers and thus withhold a lot of important communication.

McConnell: It's a cliché, but a lot of success in business really does seem to boil down to effective communication. There are significant communication style differences between the typical technical person, typical marketing person, typical sales person, and typical executive, and it helps to be aware of those differences.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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