Category: Time

The best response when providing estimates

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Time to Read: 3 mins
 
Early on in my career, I was asked to give an estimate on how long it would take to implement a new feature.
 
Now this was my first ‘real’ job out of university and to be honest I really had no idea on how to estimate.  In an attempt to assuage my discomfort (and try to get some sort of a useful response out of me) my manager added:
 
“What is an estimate really? Its just a guess, it could be right, it could be wrong.  It’s really just a guesstimate.”
 
As I progressed further on into my work career, the term ‘guesstimate’ was something that never really sat well with me.  I recently read The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt, in which a small chapter was dedicated on how to best handle estimations.
 
 
Estimates as guesstimates
A guesstimate implies that there is very little science, process or calculation around making an estimate. And although a guesstimate is sometimes analogous with estimates, providing a guesstimate is not the most appropriate response in all circumstances.
 
 
Context 
A guesstimate may be appropriate when someone asks ‘when will you be free for lunch’.  In this scenario the worst case is that you end up having lunch by yourself or maybe reschedule for another day.
 
But if you are working on something a little more serious then a guesstimate may be ill-suited.  Let’s say you were on the Waymo project and developing self driving cars. My assumption is that they are not working off guesstimates.  Mis-interpreting distance, moving objects or road signs would have dire consequences.  In this scenario accuracy is paramount therefore a rigorous estimation approach would be more appropriate.
 
The point is: How much effort is taken should be dependent on the context.  The more important the context, then the more time and you should be with your estimates.
 
 
Implying a higher degree of accuracy

How you describe your estimates is important.  The units that you use can imply a certain level of accuracy.

 
Going back to my opening example, if I gave an estimate of around 6 months to implement the new feature.  That sounds fine, right?
But if I gave my answer in days i.e. 120 days, which estimate sounds more accurate: 6 months or 120 days?
 
Using days assumes a more accurate estimation than months, but in some cases you don’t want to be accurate. If I was one month off the original estimate, it still doesn’t sound as bad as being 20 working days off.
 
Below is a general guide of giving out estimates and which units to use:
> 4 hours =  use days.
> 15 days = use weeks.
> 8 weeks = use months.
> 6 months =  take some more time to think.
 
 
Where the best estimates come from
The best estimates come from work that has already been done before.  If someone has completed the same or a similiar job in the past, a real world example would be the best guide in giving an accurate estimation.  If this is not available then there are other strategies that you can adopt to give a more confident and accurate estimation.
 
 
Functional Decomposition
Breaking down a task into smaller components will truly give you a better understanding on what needs to be done. This process is often referred to as functional decomposition. Once you have decomposed a larger task into smaller components, you can then estimate on each component and sum the value of every component giving you a final number.
 
Functional decomposition will allow you to identify any dependencies between tasks that might cause your estimates to creep up.  Another benefit is that it enables you to pin point exactly where your estimates went over or under.  Having the ability to communicate that kind of information gives stakeholders a level of transparency that goes a long way to demonstrate your analysis skills.
 
 
Historical records
For some professionals estimating is a regular and vital part of their job.  If this is the case try to keep a historical record on your original estimates versus the actual. Doing this over time will increase the accuracy of your estimates.  You will be able to recognise patterns and add the right contingency and tune your estimation process.
 
 
The best answer…
The next time you are asked for an estimate, consider the context and if it deserves something better that a guesstimate,  maybe the best response you can give is: “I’ll get back to you on that” 

Understanding Idle Time

Harvey Firestone

Time to read: 3 mins

Some of the hardest goals that we set for ourselves are those that are long term.  Long term goals require consistent action, over an extended period of time.  With long term goals the element of time is unavoidable.  In these scenarios time can be used to learn, grow and mature.

In other circumstances time is avoidable, when you are clear on what you want to achieve and the steps that need to be followed; there is no need to wait or procrastinate.

So what can you do with your idle time while you are:

a. Growing, maturing and learning and
b. Waiting and procrastinating
 
 

Learn, grow and mature
As I mentioned earlier learning, growing and maturing as a person are associated with long term goals. You might be completing a degree or saving for your first home or training for a marathon. Seeing the end is hard, especially when it is so far away. Imagining what it means to achieve your goals may give you enough motivation and momentum to keep yourself going and stay focused. If you have a long term goal in mind, take some time to think about how:

The small steps you take are leading to-> The lifelong habits  you are developing-> How these habit are needed to  ->  Reach long term goals.

 
 
Waiting and procrastination

If we are in the latter (b.) we most likely don’t have clarity on what we have to do (i.e. the next action) and there is a deeper reason why we haven’t taken action (usually around fear), but it hasn’t surfaced.   A combination of the two is used to make up excuses.

The definition of an excuse is: A justification for not doing something; but it’s not a reason, it’s more of a revision of the facts that you use to make yourself feel better.  It’s an alteration of reality.

I recently read The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone and one of my favorite chapters was on excuses.  Everybody has excuses and we all have a few that we employ over and over again.  So rather than ignore them it’s better that you confront right now.

 
 
c. Creativity

There is a third way we spend idle time that hasn’t been mentioned up until now.

We need idle time for our mind to be creative, inventive and find solutions to existing problems.

For most of us, when the words ‘solution’, ‘problem’ and even ‘invention’ is mentioned we naturally try to return to a model, or process that exists within our domain. This is not what I am talking about here. In fact, anytime where we are repeating something that we already know; this is not creative.

In its purest form, creative work has no purpose and no outcome; idle time is used to allow your mind to be silent and do nothing. We just need the time and space to let out minds moodle.  Now, few of us have this luxury, because we live in an environment where results, productivity and outcomes are king.  But think about this…

Who has the greatest value on any organisation? The answer is the person with the ideas.
 
Capital isn’t so important in business, experience isn’t so important, you can get both these things.  What is important is ideas, if you have ideas you have the main assets that you need and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life – Harvey Firestone

Understanding how our idle time is spent helps us to identify where our time is being used and what to do. When we are learning, growing and maturing; reflecting upon your goals will help to keep you motivated and focused.

When our time is being wasted on procrastination, identify the next action and drop the excuses to be more productive.

Finally (although it is less understood) allowing our minds the space and silence provides us with an opportunity to generate original ideas and thinking. This act may have greatest value and impact not only in our own lives but the lives of those around us.