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"Tick-Tock, time goes by, so slowly..."

Author: Steeve Seidel - Nexell Senior Consultant.
Banner blog tick tock

I write this article with two friends in mind. The first one always needs estimations. The second one never wants to give any. The best part is that I am in the middle and I need to find a way to satisfy both. As you can probably guess, the subject of this text is estimations, and it may be controversial.

The one way

Why are estimations needed, and why are they also not (really) helpful? Let us try to answer this excellent question. When a customer would ask me, "How long do you need to create an automation that will copy the value from field A to field B every time the value changes?”, I would think about it for 2 minutes and then say, "Ok, creating a workflow rule, creating an action, testing in Production, this is easy. Probably less than 30 minutes."

So, life is beautiful, I received a requirement, I made an estimation, and it is done.
Why, then, are estimations so complicated? I will continue with my example.
My customer said to me, "Agreed, please go ahead."

I start, I create my workflow, and, as a good consultant, I test. And then: BANG. It is not working. Exactly at this point, everyone will understand why an estimation is not as easy as estimating a customer’s unique task! I estimated 30 minutes, and now I have only 5 minutes left to analyze, find the problem, and correct it. The suspense is heightened, but I bet I will not be able to find the solution within the next 5 minutes. My estimation was wrong, and my customer will be annoyed. Of course, I will tell him that I could not have known that he already had a process builder working on this field or that a validation rule was stopping me from saving the value. Maybe he will understand. Maybe not.

The other way

Now let us consider the other side of the estimation. You need to make an offer to your customer. The first question your customer will ask is: "How much will it cost?" Quite easy. You go to your teams and tell them, “Please do an estimation for this and this.” The problem is, nobody has a real idea of how long it should take, especially if you do not know the customer’s whole system. So, every person will create his own estimation. Everyone will plan some extra time (just in case) and give you the estimation you need.

Honestly, do you think that these estimations will be accurate? I do not. Some tasks will, of course, be completed much faster, while others will take (much) longer than expected. Arrrgh, so what should I do?
First, a good rock group writes in one of their songs:

"Ahhhhh, it's time to relax,
And you know what that means,
A glass of wine, your favorite easy chair,
And of course, this compact disc playing and your home stereo."

So, now that we are relaxed, let me try to answer this tricky question. I read a lot, I compared, I tried to understand, and what I now know is:

  • There is no easy way.
  • There is more than one way.
  • If you are working in waterfall mode, there will be changes. That means your requirements and your estimation are going to be wrong, latest after the first sprint/delivery.
  • If you work in agile mode, you do not even need to do estimations because the whole project and its priorities can change at every sprint.

I know what you are thinking: ‘I do not know more than I did 2 minutes ago.’ Yes, you are right, but please let me continue...
To proceed, you need to focus on the most important stories. Analyze them. Use the Pareto principle. If you analyze 20% of the largest stories, you will see that they represent almost 80% of your work on this project. How does that sound?

If you analyze only 20% of the stories, you can do a detailed and reliable analysis. Invest your time in them. Go in detail and 80% of your project is already done. The next question will be: "But what about the rest, the other 20%?" Believe me, once you have done your 80%, the other 20% will have changed and your estimation (if you have done one) will no longer be reliable.

To estimate or to not estimate: That is the question

Let's be honest: We cannot refuse to provide an estimate because every customer needs to know what a project is going to cost. BUT we cannot provide an estimate for something we do not know!

If you understand the project (the whole picture), you are going to know exactly what the big stories are (80% of the work) and which stories are going to have minimal impact (20%). This will probably change after you implement the big stories.
So, concentrate on your big stories, the ones that are not going to change, and let the project take care of the rest!

*Note: The band referred to above is The Offspring.
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