Complex Projects aren’t plannable but controllable

Jutta Eckstein

Practitioner Workshop


Science has finally approved it: Forecasting complex projects is a deception. Moreover, forecasts hinder innovations. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize Winner in Economic Sciences and psychologist verified in many cases, that forecasting of complex projects is impossible. Yet still, we keep losing time trying to do exactly that. Beyond Budgeting (see e.g. came empirically to the same findings and offers a concept for controlling corporations without budgets. Additionally Beyond Budgeting provides advice for controlling even long-term complex projects. Agile methodologies generally recommend developing a long-term plan on a coarse-grained level only and coming up with detailed short-term plans iteratively. I’m working on large and complex agile projects for more than 10 years. However, learning about Kahneman’s and the Beyond Budgeting folks’ work helped me a great deal in better understanding how planning, estimating and budgeting relate and why the traditional approaches don’t work. Of course, we all know how this works in the small, how to plan and steer a project by iterations. Yet, how will you get the budget for starting a large agile project, how do you know how your tiny iterations (across many feature teams) fit the long-term project goal? This is not about small simple projects. It is about complex projects, e.g. projects with 50-300 developers, taking 3-5 years to finish or similarly large product (line) development.

In this session I want to analyze the latest scientific research and explore possibilities of combining Beyond Budgeting and Agile principles so that even complex projects remain controllable.

Learning objectives:

  • Understand why forecasting complex projects is impossible
  • Become acquainted with the core ideas of Beyond Budgeting
  • Develop strategies for the application of Beyond Budgeting in Agile projects



Jutta Eckstein is an independent coach, consultant and trainer from Braunschweig, Germany. Her know-how in agile processes is based on over fifteen years’ experience in project and product development. She has helped many teams and organizations all over the world to make the transition to an agile approach. She has a unique experience in applying agile processes within medium-sized to large distributed mission-critical projects. This is also the topic of her books ‘Agile Software Development in the Large‘ and ‘Agile Software Development with Distributed Teams‘. She is a member of the Agile Alliance and a member of the program committee of many different European and American conferences in the area of agile development, object-orientation and patterns. In 2011, Jutta has been elected into the Top 100 most important persons of the German IT.