Monday, May 22, 2017

Estimating

I was flying home from a client visit last week at the airport getting ready to board the plane when the gate agent announced that the flight was gonna be delayed by ten minutes due to some unspecified mechanical issue. Ten minutes later they announcement another ten minute delay. They did this two more times.

So what was going on? Did the airlines not want to admit upfront that they had a 40 minute delay so they fed the delays to us ten minutes at a time? Or did the person who is doing the work really not understand how long it was going to take? I started thinking about how common it is for people to not be able to provide good estimates. Sometimes they underestimate the complexity, or maybe student syndrome sets in, or they're just overly optimistic.

It was ironic, but part of the work with my client that week was explaining the technique of relative estimates using t-shirt sizes and story points. The team I was working with was  new to agile and used to the old way of doing absolute estimates, which as we all know are not as accurate because of things like student syndrome or Parkinson's Law.

So how do we get better at estimating? I think the real question should be how we recognize estimates for what they are. An uncertain prediction of a future event. Even when we use story points, we won't know our true velocity until after a couple iterations when the team has time to come together. At the beginning of the project, we need to recognize how much uncertainty we have. So instead of saying "that will take about 2 months" we should say "that may take 2 months, but it could take as long as 3 months." So we provide not only the estimate but some measure of the uncertainty that goes with it. Similarly, if we think a story might be 13 points, but there's a lot of uncertainty, we should state that and make the story 20 points (or 21 if you're being strict with your Fibonacci sequence). Now if only I could get the airlines to provide a more accurate estimate the next time there's a delay...or at least how certain they are!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Bullet Journal

I started something new in February, a bullet journal. I've played with different tools to help me keep organized and remember stuff, and this is my latest.

I went back to using paper over electronic tools for notes over a year ago based on research that showed you remembered things better when you took notes the old fashion way. Even then, I wasn't sure of the best approach. For a long time I was using standard legal pads, but I didn't want to take them with me when I traveled. I had a small organizer that allowed me to put paper in and out. I had tabs for different projects and clients but I found I was flipping pages to much.

I've adopted a way to combine the legal pads and my bullet journal. I still keep a legal pad at my desk and write down about everything. At the end of the day, I review my notes and copy everything over to my bullet journal. This serves as a review, makes sure I don't forget any action items, and gives me a chance to jot down some reflections at the end of the day.

I am using a Moleskin 5x8.5 dot grid soft cover notebook and a set of Sharpie fine point pens in 4 colors. I use different colors when I change subjects or otherwise want to highlight an idea. I have pages to capture books/movies/music I want to get, a page to capture things I'm grateful for, and a page where I have a year-long calendar.

We'll have to see how long I keep this up. I've got the book "The Doodle Revolution" sitting on my bookshelf, maybe I need to dust it off so I can add doodles to my journal.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Canvas Strategy

I’m making my way through the Tim Ferris' book Tools of Titans. It’s well over 600 pages but it has a lot of useful, interesting advice, though I'll admit some of it is a bit out there. He breaks the book up into three areas; Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. The book is really just a summary of podcasts done over the years with some other advice added in.

One piece of advice I appreciated is what he called the canvas strategy. The idea really came from Ryan Holiday. The name refers back to when apprenticeships were common; a budding  painter learns his craft by serving under a master and doing such things as preparing his canvas. 

In today’s terms it’s about serving the people you work for…sounds like servant-leadership! Some examples he gives includes ideas such as giving your boss an idea you came up with and not looking for credit or finding out the job no one else wants to do and taking it on yourself.


This strategy will accomplish a number of things. It will keep your ego from getting to big.  As you make those around you successful, you will also become more successful; the adage "a rising tide lifts all boats." Finally, if you're feeding ideas to your boss, or coworkers, then you will start steering the direction they are going.