cio

How I make very early software cost estimates (Part 1)

Summary: I use Function Point Analysis (FPA) and Yesterday’s Weather to make “back of the envelope” software cost estimates when discussing potential new software projects with decision makers.

The problem

Many times when a software project is in its earlier stages (the conceptualization phase), the people that control the money at an organization (the CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.) want the best estimate they can get regarding the time and cost of a software development project. This is often very early in the project lifecycle, typically shortly after someone said, “Hmm, that sounds like a very interesting idea” and well before the first check is cut. In short, they want the best back of the envelope, ballpark cost estimate you can give them.

The solution

I used to dread these discussions, because I hated estimating the time and cost of software projects. I wasn’t any good at it, and the developers I worked with weren’t any good at it either. But once I learned two things:

Writing tip: Just say what you mean

Somewhere around the year 2006, my writing style was influenced by the CIO of a company I was working with. When trying to get a new project started, a project manager gave me a very vague description of what he wanted, and as a result, the cost estimate and Statement of Work I wrote (so I would get paid) was vague as well.

The CIO called me to her office, and then told me that I didn’t have to write anything fancy, I just had to “say what I mean.” Since then, that simple approach has been a key to my writing style.

Balancing development desire with product goals

This oreilly.com article about balancing quality and product features (from the perspective of a CTO/CIO) is a good read. The editor’s note states, “This is part of a series exploring the trials and tribulations of first-time managers. Camille Fournier, former CTO at Rent the Runway, is often asked for advice on how to make the transition from an individual contributor to a manager.”