How to Make a Wild Guess

Estimating timelines is an important part of any software project, and producing an accurate estimate requires a detailed, systematic approach, says Jacob Kaplan-Moss.

But, sometimes, it’s more important for an estimate to be quick than to be accurate, he says, such as when you’re asked to give an opinion during a meeting. To provide this sort of quick estimate, Kaplan-Moss explains, you need to make a Simple Wild-Ass Guess, or SWAG.

The name’s a bit of a joke, he says, but the practice isn’t. “You never have to make a SWAG – it’s always appropriate to defer until you’ve had time to make a proper estimate – but if you can make one, and know that it’ll be at least plausible, a SWAG can help cut through a complex debate and keep things moving.”

In the article, Kaplan-Moss examines when a SWAG is appropriate, noting that only certain problems lend themselves to SWAGs, so figuring out which kind of problem you have – simple, complicated, or complex – is the first step. 

“Simple problems lend themselves very well to SWAGs,” he says. And, SWAGs can sometimes be made for complicated problems, but a high degree of prior knowledge is required. 

Kaplan-Moss also describes how to deliver a SWAG once you’ve made it. Hint: “You should deliberately sound vague and squishy.” 

Read the complete article at Jacobian.org.

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