February 06, 2014

Big Data and Project Estimates

March Madness is due to hit in full force soon. I try to ignore this fact but my husband warns me every year when the season is approaching (so I can know why he is hibernating).

For those who aren’t basketball fans, March Madness is the American (United States) National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments.

This year it is especially big news because Warren Buffett, together with his company, Berkshire Hathaway, are offering $1 billion to any person who can correctly pick the winners of all 63 games in this year’s NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. The odds, without tools, are 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

To add to your chances of winning, Paul Bessire has created an application called The Predictalator. He says this software has been incredibly accurate in predicting outcomes of sports games. If you want to spend time on going for the billion, there’s a tool.

The Predictalator analyzes multitudes of factors and converts them into probable outcomes.

Let’s apply these estimates to projects. If we had a project with 64 team members (just like there are 64 teams in the Men’s NCAA tournament), and asked each team member for an estimate on an activity, we would have 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds that all of the estimates would be correct; correct meaning exactly equal to the actual outcome. If we had only 64 activities in a project – which would be a pretty small project – and had one estimate for duration for each activity, again the odds would be 1 in 9.2 quintillion that the total estimate would be on target.

Which leads me to think – why do project managers, sponsors, team members and clients (okay, project stakeholders in general) often expect projects to be “on” their estimates? Certainly the odds are wildly against that.

Of course, as we get closer to the end, our estimates for the project budget and duration are much more accurate – just like when we get down to the final game in a basketball tournament.

While The Predictalator teaches us there is no safe bet on games or projects, perhaps a good webinar for basketball bettors would be on Rolling Wave Planning, to continuously update their estimates.