How large are software cost overruns? A review of the 1994 CHAOS report
The Standish Group reported in their 1994 CHAOS report that the average cost overrun of software projects was as high as 189%. This figure for cost overrun is referred to frequently by scientific researchers, software process improvement consultants, and government advisors. In this paper, we review the validity of the Standish Group's 1994 cost overrun results. Our review is based on a comparison of the 189% cost overrun figure with the cost overrun figures reported in other cost estimation surveys, and an examination of the Standish Group's survey design and analysis methods. We find that the figure reported by the Standish Group is much higher than those reported in similar estimation surveys and that there may be severe problems with the survey design and methods of analysis, e.g. the population sampling method may be strongly biased towards ‘failure projects’. We conclude that the figure of 189% for cost overruns is probably much too high to represent typical software projects in the 1990s and that a continued use of that figure as a reference point for estimation accuracy may lead to poor decision making and hinder progress in estimation practices.