When a Time Estimate Becomes a Time‑Suck
Although popular, time estimates can be a waste of time and leave you open to all sorts of issues that ultimately make them counterproductive.
So How Do Time Estimates Become Time‑sucks?
They waste time: Estimates take time to create and uses up staff and resources by making them attend tedious meetings. After that the decision still needs to be ratified by project leaders.
More time is wasted when the specs come in or change after the start of the project when the estimate needs adjusting. This is a common event in most projects.
Time estimates have little value: In terms of time and effort the time estimate adds little to the project. The time could be better utilized looking a new features, bugs or ways of improving ROI.
They are always inaccurate: This is the most obvious problem with time estimates. Most projects run over time and the fact is that this is not the fault of any one person, it is the way our brains work that causes this. Once we work as part of a team we enter what is known as a ‘flow state’; this is perfect for collaborative working but it does skew our time perception.
Switching time is not considered: All those gaps as we move between tasks are never accounted for in time estimates and this increases the more tasks we do at once.
Our brains: The fact that we are not very good at time estimation is known in psychological circles as ‘planning fallacy’. This means we think we can accomplish more than we can in any given time frame. We don’t have a great idea of time and because our memories can be fallible we often make huge underestimates on how long a project takes based on past experiences and always end up running over time.
Sometimes You Do Need a Plan
When you are faced with a six-week deadline and a valuable project then time estimates become part of scheduling. It is essential that senior team members have great assessment skills so they can look at resources, time, tasks and personnel that they need to get the project completed on time. This is a key consideration when recruiting to your team.
However, a high-level estimate is one thing, making estimates for individual tasks and specifics is less useful. One of the main challenges is that as soon as the initial task time estimate is shared other departments will take that and make their own estimates and plans. If you then find there is a hold-up the other teams can end up sitting idle because the two time frames no longer match.
Planning around dates means that you end up cutting features, reducing the scope of the project or providing something that is not up to standard. If a time estimate is essential then always multiple your figures by 1.5. Sometimes it is worth multiplying by 2 to give plenty of leeway for any challenges that occur. Build in some slack and focus on where the project is rather than trying to meet arbitrary timelines and if you do need time estimates make sure that you understand how fallible they are.
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