estimates / no estimates

 estimates / no estimates

Some unformed thoughts about why some engineers are resistant to giving time estimates for their work (hint: it’s fear, it’s obviously fear).

As an engineer being able to help other people plan is key. totally get that. BUT. BUT. Here is why some engineers find estimating stressful: we’re terrified of being found out that we don’t know what we’re doing.

More than once I have thought a job would take several hours when it in fact took several days, and that was because I had an incorrect fundamental assumption i had about one of the systems the job relied on, or interacted with. So (I told myself), because I had estimated inorrectly people found out that I actually didn’t know anything.

Why do we insist on estimates when they are always incorrect? I guess they are incorrect by differing orders of magnitude, and how incorrect they are is going to feed into how well your team does in the abccelerate metric Lead Time To Change.

If you communicate your estimate, and continue to update as it changes - that’s good. If your estimate keeps getting longer and longer, and your stakeholders get angrier and angrier because you said it would be done by now…. Especially if you (+your team) don’t yet know what the issue is, how to get closer.

The happy path is great - when it’s done well, estimating can be really helpful! There are also many, many sad paths, and many worries involved when you, as an engineer are asked to estimate. What if I estimated and I got it wrong or didn’t do it on time - will there be negative consequences for me? Might I be measured against the accuracy of my estimates? Might they feature in my performance review?

Written on July 20, 2021