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Credibility and Commitment

March 1996 White Paper
Watts S. Humphrey

This 1996 whitepaper explores how an organization can gain credibility by realistically planning work based on historical performance.


Software Engineering Institute


Bill, a software manager, had only been in the job for about a month.  He was now the manager of a very large software project and his 12 top managers were all in the room. This programming group had not made a schedule in recorded history and now the company really needed their product fast. Bill had successfully managed several previous projects and he had been selected to straighten this one out.

Vin, the company senior vice president, had called a meeting with Bill and his top software managers.  Vin spent the first 20 minutes chewing them all out. The company was ready to ship hardware and the software was not ready. They had promised to deliver months ago and had missed every single date.  Now, nobody believed them.  Vin demanded a delivery schedule in two weeks.

When Vin stopped talking, everyone looked at Bill.  This was the time to put up or shut up. Bill knew there was no way to produce a project plan in two weeks.  Several hundred people were working on this project and it would take a week just to tell everybody what to do.  Bill knew that a schedule without a plan would be a guess and the last thing he wanted to do now was to guess.  The new dates would then be no better than all the others and it would only be a matter of time before Bill was on the scrap heap with all the other failed software managers.  Bill didn't know how Vin would react but he did know that if he didn't take a stand right now, he would never have a better chance.  He figured that since he had just been put in this job, they wouldn't fire him this soon.

Bill told Vin, "We could make a guess, and give it to you today.  But if you want a date we will actually meet, we must make a plan, and that will take 60 days."

Vin was surprised.  He looked around the room and asked the managers what they thought. Each manager, when asked, said, "Yup, it would take 60 days to make a plan."

In the end, Vin agreed and gave the project the 60 days they needed to produce a plan and a schedule.

After the meeting, Bill was hailed as a hero.  For the first time, their boss had stood up to management pressure and had gotten the time to make a real plan. Bill never knew whether Vin had staged the meeting to test him, but it didn't matter, it had a marvelous effect.  The managers were now committed to producing a plan in 60 days, and they intended to make a plan they would actually meet.

They did in fact finish the plan in 60 days. With the time to thoughtfully make a plan, the managers compared their new work with what they had done before.  By using historical data, they were much more realistic. This made the schedules longer than anyone wanted, and many of the key functions were spread over several releases.  What surprised everyone was that with realistic schedules, they could now think about their work instead of reacting.  They found they were meeting their interim dates and they could count on their coworkers to meet theirs.  As a result, they delivered the first release ahead of schedule and didn't miss a single date for the next two and a half years.