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Hilbert’s Problems for Cost Estimating

Methods Track

Downloadable Files:

METH-6 Braxton Paper Hilberts-Problems


At the International Congress of Mathematicians at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1900, German mathematician David Hilbert boldly put forth a list of 23 theretofore unsolved problems in mathematics, which subsequently became quite influential in 20th-century research efforts. Though seven years late, the authors propose a similar list for 21st- century cost estimating and risk analysis. Because cost is an inherently but not purely analytical field, some of the problems take the form of broader issues to be addressed.
Because cost is an interdisciplinary field, some of the problems may have been solved elsewhere (such as in the realm of probability and statistics) but the solution not yet fully “imported” into the cost world.
The proposed problems, grouped by category, include: Professional Identity
• Defining the body of knowledge
• Aligning professional societies with the community of practice and developing a strategy for use of knowledge management and “social software” tools to enhance community interaction
• Addressing the analyst paradox, and the related black-box model death spiral
• Affirming the central role of integrity in cost estimating, especially vis-à-vis independence, risk, and cost realism
Analytical Techniques
• Defining the double analogy estimating technique
• Developing the theoretical probabilistic underpinnings for risk analysis associated with cost estimating, especially addressing the difficulties associated with the fact that our data come from “experiments” that are neither controlled nor repeatable
• Standardization of CERs: developing “open” standards together with documentation requirements; including a discussion of the recent controversy on regression methods, and seminal papers on adjusting analogies and the role of the y-intercept
• Using thought experiments in conjunction with systematic data analysis to test theoretical constructs and develop better mental models without overindulging the need to explain
• Development of a “grand unified theory” of learning curves
• Development of a “grand unified theory” of estimate at complete (EAC)
• Physics-based estimating, modeling and simulation, and chaos
• Development of techniques for estimating emerging technology
Cost Estimating Implementation
• Meta-cost estimating: taking our own medicine in estimating the cost of cost estimating, especially as related to the recurring vs. non-recurring effort of cost estimating and analysis (estimates vs. research, configuring vs. coding)
• Development of guidelines for data rights management
• Establishing the epistemology of cost models, or how the analyst knows the model is operating as desired to produce the “right” answer (verification and validation)
• Description of blended cost models
Integration with Related Disciplines
• Refuting the “self-fulfilling prophecy” of cost growth (Acquisition)
• Transcending budgeting and establishing the role of cost estimating in portfolio management (Budgeting)
• Determining statistically the impact of incentives on contract cost control, if any; considering the application of game theory to government-contractor interactions (Contracts)
• Better defining the uncertain partnership with cost management (CAIV)

As with Hilbert’s original problems, these crucial issues will be presented with research to date and some ideas as to how resolution might be pursued, but they are ultimately intended to spawn further study. While varied, they represent a personal list and are not intended to be comprehensive.


Peter Braxton
Peter J. Braxton holds an AB in Mathematics from Princeton University and an M. S. in Applied Science (Operations Research) from the College of William and Mary.
He has worked to advance the state of knowledge of cost estimating, Cost As an Independent Variable (CAIV), Target Costing, and risk analysis on behalf of the Navy Acquisition Reform Office (ARO), the DD(X) development program, and other ship and intelligence community programs. He has co-authored several professional papers, including ISPA/SCEA International Conference award-winners in CAIV (1999) and Management (2005). He served as managing editor for the original development of the acclaimed Cost Programmed Review Of Fundamentals (CostPROF) body of knowledge and training course materials and is currently undertaking to lead a large team of cost professional in a comprehensive update thereof. He serves as SCEA’s Director of Training and was recently appointed a Northrop Grumman Technical Fellow.

Richard Coleman
Richard L. Coleman is a 1968 Naval Academy graduate, received an M. S. with Distinction from the U. S. Naval Postgraduate School and retired from active duty as a Captain, USN, in 1993. His service included tours as Commanding Officer of USS Dewey (DDG 45), and as Director, Naval Center for Cost Analysis. He has worked extensively in cost, CAIV, and risk for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Navy ARO, the intelligence community, NAVAIR, and the DD(X) Design Agent team. He has supported numerous ship programs including DD(X), the DDG 51 class, Deepwater, LHD 8 and LHA 6, the LPD 17 class, Virginia class submarines, CNN 77, and CVN 21. He was recently appointed as the Director of the Cost and Price Analysis Center of Excellence and conducts Independent Cost Evaluations on Northrop Grumman programs. He has more than 50 professional papers to his credit, including five ISPA/SCEA and SCEA Best Paper Awards and two ADoDCAS Outstanding Contributed Papers. He was a senior reviewer for all the SCEA CostPROF modules and lead author of the Risk Module. He has served as Regional and National Vice President of SCEA and is currently Director of Research.