"Just give me a number - I need something to tell my boss. We won't hold you to it, I just need something, anything, to get him off my back."
There were nice people there. Good people. People that meant well. The gentleman speaking to me was one of them. He wanted a number and I gave him one.
Estimates, Targets, and Commitments
That number, it turns out, was communicated as a commitment on my part. Had I read Steve McConnell's excellent book Software Estimation before that time, I may have realized more of what was happening.
I just finished Steve's book and I recommend it to anyone facing the daunting task of delivering a number. Steve does a fantastic job of breaking down software estimation to its constituent components. Best of all, he doesn't stop there. He carries the discussion from the realm of calculation and quantification into the practicable arena of real life with discussions and hints about exactly how to communicate estimates effectively.
One of the early chapters covers the difference between estimates, targets, and commitments. I could have used this information earlier in my career.
I recommend Software Estimation to anyone interested in learning more about producing better estimates. I heartily recommend the book to consultants.
The chapter on the politics of software estimates, politics, and negotiation is worth the price of the book all by itself.