Precision and Accuracy

Precision and Accuracy

Years and years ago, when I was running Insurance Data Warehouse projects, I had a Business Analyst in my team with whom I often had misunderstandings because she was far more precise with her language than I was. Most of the time anyway.

I think this Business Analyst was unusual – as a species, we’re pretty imprecise with our language and this can cause confusion. The Business Analyst produced the most precisely worded requirements documents, which were reviewed and signed off and handed over for development. However, the teams receiving these documents were not always as precise, so misunderstandings were inevitable. This is why I’m a big fan of the User Story and the close contact between development teams and their customers that Scrum fosters.

We have Agile Breakfast sessions every few months at the office. These are hosted by our PMO Director, Head of Agile Project Management and almost always have Kenny Rubin as our special guest. Kenny is our embedded course trainer for Scrum at my company. I had done my Certified Scrum Master training with Mike Cohn whilst at Conchango, but took my Certified Product Owner with Kenny.

What’s more – our Agile breakfasts include delicious pastries and all the coffee you can drink!

During a discussion on the subject of estimating, and more scarily, reporting estimates to senior management, Kenny discussed the need for accurate estimates. Here are some examples of accurate estimates:

  1. The project will complete on 15th August 2011
  2. The project will complete in the week beginning 15th August 2011
  3. The project will complete  in August 2011
  4. The project will complete in Fiscal Quarter 2

Assuming all of the above are true, which of the above is the most accurate? This is a trick question – they are all equally accurate, but each has a different precision.

The point is that if asked for an accurate estimate of project cost duration or ship date, it is possible to answer honestly in a way that flags to those asking that there is uncertainty. Based on the degree of uncertainty more precision can be requested if needed. It’s up to the customer/ business to decide how much they’re willing to invest in getting more precision and down to the maturity of everyone to work out how to get more precision, but that’s a discussion for another time.
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