Unfortunately, they very often are. Recently, during an interview, I asked the candidate what they thought about the notion that “estimates are not commitments“. The candidates answer was:
Once an estimate is put down on paper, it unfortunately becomes a commitment.
Performing a search for estimates are not commitments returns a good number of results so this is not really a new subject. Yet, to be fair, it’s important to realize that many of the articles are authored by individuals in the Agile software development delivery space so do we have an agenda?
In previous articles, I’ve tried to define what an estimate is, so I won’t repeat that here but suffice it to say, that an estimate is an approximation of a measure. On the other hand, a commitment is defined as the following:
- an act of committing to a charge or trust
- an agreement or pledge to do something in the future
So its very clear that estimate and commitment are not one and the same thing. How is it then, that estimates are very often interpreted and/or immediately translated to commitments? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that yet, but I’d love to your feedback!
What I do think is important is understanding what the the requestor of an estimate is looking for. An estimate? A commitment? The response for each could be remarkably different. So when you are being asked for an estimate (and let’s just assume for a second that one is truly needed), make sure you understand what you are really being asked for.
Estimates are not commitments.