• Per Lindstedt

Hofstadter's law – The Catch 22 of Project management

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Estimates of time, cost, or revenues in projects are often characterized by circular reasoning and paradoxes similar to Hofstadter's law:

  • It always takes longer than you expect to complete the project, even if you take Hofstadter's Law into account.

No area within project management is the clash of expectations so visible:

  • The Project sponsor wants commitment on time and budget

  • The Project manager offers estimates based on incomplete data

This clash of expectations many times leads to dysfunctional behavior and politics. A lack of trust, respect, and professionalism between the Project sponsor and Project manager.


However, many things can be done to defuse the situation.


First, estimates can be significantly improved by involving more people doing estimates. Some people are optimists, and some are a pessimist. Therefore, the average of a group of experts is always better than a single estimate.


Secondly, as there is variability in human activities, make at least three estimates:

  • probable or the most likely

  • optimistic if everything goes perfect

  • pessimistic if shit happens.

This method will highlight the variability involved in performing the project, activity, sprint, or whatever you estimate.


Thirdly, if your sponsor can't accept or live with the variability involved in human activities and forces you to provide just one estimate, use the" Hocus" formula. One by the optimistic estimate plus two by the pessimistic estimate plus three by the probable estimate divided by six.


You can download an Excel file with powerful macros on our web page, simplifying multiple estimators and estimates. You can also listen to a video from our latest free seminar explaining this philosophy and demonstrating how to use the Excel file.



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Per & Ulf



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