The Secret Behind Accurate Estimating (Part II)

Corporate Exit Strategist for Blooming Entrepreneurs

Time is just a form of measurement.  It’s a tool for our convenience.  One of the uses for “time” is to synchronize pieces of a project:  to schedule the various work products and integrate into a quality product, service or event.  Inaccurate estimating skills slow down the entire team and builds resentment in those required to pick-up the slack.

This series cover three methods of charting and logging your work product estimations:

  1. Iterative charting to improve accuracy
  2. Charting for effective communications
  3. Charting for a streamlining process example

Example of iterative charting to improve estimating:

For instance, I trim my own hair.  I don’t find it very difficult and I get compliments on the cut.  Based on past performances, I know it takes 20 minutes to wash and trim it.  If I were to take the same head of hair to an expert, it would probably take several hours to arrive, wait, wash, cut, and $40.   I admit their style would be much better.  But, right now, the return on my investment (time wise and cost wise) isn’t worth taking the extra steps.  For this project, my quality requirements are low.

When I first trimmed my hair, it took longer than 20 minutes.  I was nervous and I didn’t exactly know what I was doing.  So my log looked like:

First time:

Tasks Impact Quality required Estimated Time Actual Time
  Trim Hair Me Low    
       Wash hair     3 min 2 min
      Cut hair     20 min 25 min
      Dry hair     30 min 30 min
      Re-trim hair     20 min 25 min

 

Forth time

Tasks Impact Quality required Estimated Time Actual Time
  Trim Hair Me Low    
       Wash hair     2 min 2 min
      Cut hair     25 min 20 min
      Dry hair     30 min n/a
      Re-trim hair     25 min n/a

 

Tenth time

Tasks Impact Quality required Estimated Time Actual Time
  Trim Hair Me Low    
       Wash hair Me   2 min 2 min
      Cut hair Me   18 min 18 min

 

Because I have logged my experiences with my hair trimming, I know exactly how long this task will take me.

But, what if I was preparing for a show on Oprah (if anyone knows Oprah, please give me a call) or a gala for the launch of my new book?    The Impact and Quality required would be drastically different.  The change in impact and reason for the hair cut greatly affects how I am going to approach this task.  Spending a few hours at the hair salon is now worth it to me.

 

It is the same with a software project.  If the reason for my work is to produce a quick sample, prototype or skeleton of my direction, the quality required would be low.  Therefore, I would only spend enough time to adequately convey the concept.  If, however, the presentation is for the board of executives, my work will need to be of higher quality.

Using the chart for effective communications:

So, what if I was preparing a presentation for an executive in my office?  I’m trying to make it perfect.

My boss has giving me 2 weeks to do it.  I wanted to illustrate to my boss that I knew what I was doing and I was up to the challenge.

 

Tasks Impact Quality required Estimated Time Actual Time
  Presentation It would impact my boss, my career and possibly by boss’ reputation. High 2 weeks  
Initial consultation on what is required    Required high level understanding of full project 1 hour 1 hour
Presentation complete I was interrupted with other things and was able to complete project just in time.    2 weeks 2 weeks
Review with boss BOSS did not like it and I had to start all over again!!!   I missed the deadline.  My reputation is affected.   1 hour 1 hour

 

Another way to approach the task is to incorporate communication and active listening techniques.  This is also another form of “iterative development”.

Another way to approach the task is to incorporate communication and active listening techniques.  Create early prototypes and skeletons for management review.  This allows them to see your progress, redirect if necessary, and provide additional resources when required.

 

Tasks Impact Quality required Estimated Time Actual Time
  Presentation It would impact my boss, his reputation and me. High 2 weeks  
Initial consultation on what is required     1 hour 1 hour
Skeleton presentation I paraphrased what I thought he said, and drafted a quick skeleton presentation for my boss to review  Low 1 day 1 day
Review with boss Boss did not like it, and gave me further instructions and direction      
2nd Skeleton presentation I paraphrased what I thought he said, and put a quick  2nd skeleton together for my boss to review Low 1 day ½ day
Review with boss Boss really liked the second skeleton.  His suggestions sparked more ideas from me.  He approved my new ideas and provided me some additional resources for the task.   1 hour 1 hour
Presentation draft complete Got interrupted, but was able to hand-off those interruptions to the additional resources my boss gave me. Medium 4 days 5 days
Presentation draft review with boss Did a quick review with my boss within 3 days of the final deadline.

This allowed him to know what I was presenting with plenty of time to change anything.

  1 hour  
Final Presentation   High 2 hours 2 hours
Release time     6 days 7 days

Conclusion:

Remember your overall goal isn’t to provide your boss with a perfect product or service the first time.  Your overall goal is to present an adequate product or service that meets the client’s needs at the end of 2 weeks. So spending energy on having it right the first time is wasteful, especially if you are not the one deciding the “right-ness” of the project.   Acknowledge upfront that you (and perhaps even your boss) won’t clearly understand the “right direction” until your present mini-skeletons along the way.   Often times a manager doesn’t give clear directions because he is unclear himself.  He will “know it when he sees it”, but often has trouble articulating it until he does see it.

The next installment of this article will uncover how to use estimation and charting to streamline your process.

 

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