Estimates and ProposalsWisdom of Crowds
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There is a tendency to rely heavily on experts in almost any situation. They have studied their craft. They understand aspects that a regular person may not. They are, after all, experts in their fields, so we put more weight on their opinions. In project estimating, experts are indeed helpful, but so too are the opinions of the entire project planning team.

Planet Money podcasters introduced us to the story of an ox, a cow, and estimates, all to help prove that experts are not the only opinions that produce good results. Your estimates are more accurate when you average the answers of many. The combined wisdom of a team is where we should be placing more weight. 

Syncroness heard this podcast, and it reinforced what we already knew from our own experiences in estimating projects for engineer product development (PD) – Group estimating and the Wisdom of Crowds work.

Wisdom of Crowds

Planet Money told the story of long-time-ago statistician, Francis Galton, who did an experiment to see how much an ox weighed. He took a whole lot of guesses, averaged them, and compared that to the actual weight of the ox. Considering that a large majority of the guesses were not “expert” guesses, Galton was surprised to find the average number was spot on.

The actual weight of the ox: 1,198lbs
The average: 1,197lbs – just 1 pound off from the actual weight.

Planet Money then conducted the same experiment. They posted pictures of a large cow on social media and asked people to guess its weight. They tallied 17,205 guesses and averaged them to find (drumroll please) …

The actual weight of the cow: 1,355lbs
The average: 1,287lbs – not 1lb off like Galton’s experiment, but pretty close.

Not only was the average number fairly accurate (again). But, Planet Money also tallied the guesses from actual experts and found the average of the expert guesses to be less accurate than that of the crowd that included experts and non.

This phenomenon of effectively having better results when trusting the many is explained in James Surowiecki’s book – The Wisdom of Crowds. Surowiecki, the Galton experiment, Planet Money, and countless other data, actually prove that relying on the crowd, the many, the varied, is your better option and yields surprisingly effective results. It is the wisdom of crowds.

“Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them,” Surowiecki.

Wisdom of Crowds

Penelope the cow, weighing in at 1,355 pounds.

Penelope the cow

How Syncroness Estimates Projects

Now, estimating the cost or manpower of an engineering project is far more complex than estimating the weight of a cow. But the wisdom of crowds concept still holds true for estimating in engineering PD. Rely on your experts, but also rely on your mid-level and newbie engineers. All opinions are useful.

At Syncroness, we embrace the wisdom of crowds concept when estimating projects. We believe in its value for our customers and for our internal teams working on your projects. We use planning poker to estimate projects which brings the whole project team’s wisdom to bear on the estimates in a fast, fun setting. When we break down project work into small bits, and then estimate those bits as a team, we arrive at much more accurate estimates than if we relied solely on one Subject Matter Expert (SME.)

In a nutshell, here’s how you can embrace the wisdom of crowds in your next project:

  1. When estimating, incorporate the entire project team. It is useful to have non-experts estimate.
  2. Average all the guestimates together and take advantage of “the wisdom of crowds.” The average will be the more accurate estimate than would be if you just go with estimates from one PM or a couple of SMEs.

Advantages to embracing the wisdom of the crowd:

  • Accuracy: The group is smarter than the individual. As quoted above, Surowiecki wrote it. We’re just reiterating it.
  • Insight: You’ll learn more about project risks and scoping.
  • Speed: Do your planning live as a team. Cross your T’s and dot your I’s as a team.

“Chasing the expert is a mistake. We should ask the crowds.” – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds”

At Syncroness, we have 5 years of data to show that group estimates are far more accurate than individual or expert estimates. Contact us today to learn how we can incorporate some of these techniques into your next project.

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