Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Nice Story On Estimates

The stereotypical conversation between a manager and a software engineer in a more traditional company goes as follows:

Manager: "I have this piece of work. How long does it take you to complete this?"

Engineer: "It'll take me about 2 months."

Manager: "That's great but let's push the envelope. I think you can do it in 1.5 months."

This is overruling the estimates, and in my experience a big no-no. It is ok and depending on circumstances even helpful to ask guiding questions. E.g. you might want to ask: "What if we implemented this using [xyz] ?" or "Did you consider [abc]?"

Guiding questions help avoiding over-engineering or misunderstandings in the first place.

Today I experienced a different dialog. The manager in the following scene was me:

Manager: "I have this piece of work. How long do you think will it take to complete this?"

Engineer: "It will take about 2 months."

Manager: "Ok, so to be on the safe side, should we say it takes 3 months?"

Engineer: "It will take about 2 months."

And then he went deep into the details to explain to me what tasks would be required for the job.

Bottom line: I observed something extremely positive here. The engineer insisted on his estimate, and I think he was right. He was the person closest to the problem and with the best expertise to make the call. How could I dare to question this if I didn't have better arguments?

Ben, who was the engineer in this particular case, showed me that the above rule also works the other way round. Don't just change the estimates if your best engineers give you an estimate. And this applies for both, decreasing and increasing the estimates. Thank you, Ben! I shouldn't have questioned your judgement in the first place.

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