3…2…1… planned!

No matter what we do, if we are Agile or fall down the water… if we are senior or junior… if it is big or small… for nearly everything we do we have to define tasks and estimations to plan the days, weeks and months to come. Again, no matter what, this (especially first) planning is in most cases (and from personal experience most means 90%) pretty far from what is really required in the end. The other 10% split up into 1) the ones that planned good but not 100% correct, maybe used “proven” methodologies such as PERT or just estimated +30% and 2) the ones where the planning perfectly fit the development (again in my experience normally 1%-3%).
So, what you could say is to just “do it” like the 1%-3% did. This would normally be the way to go if theirs worked out. The thing is, from everything I have seen in project planning over the years: It just worked because of luck!

I think it is fair to say that I learned project planning pretty much from the practical side, always failing what I learned theoretically. No mater how much time I spend planning big projects, setting up tasks, goals, milestones, reviews, reworks, … it never got into this 1-3 frame.
Even with a more agile-driven approach, small sprints, good daily tasks, weekly reviews and time consuming remodelling of the plan: If I sum up what had to be reworked every single week I was as far away as with the initial waterfall plan. All goals got achieved and “somehow” it worked out but it is disappointing for the one who planned to see his estimations being more a guideline than a workplan.
Based on that experience I started thinking: What are the reasons for such divergence? What am I planning wrong? What do I have to change to fit the developers needs? And that is what strucked me: The Developer!

…to be busy!

With all IT projects I had to work on, the main time is consumed by the developers, the engineers, the architects of the (mostly) software projects. Of course Game Design, Art, etc. have to be taken into account but are often more parallel to what goes wrong more often: The actual development or implementation! (no question, thinking lean everybody should care about downtimes because of unfinished output/input)
As a developer myself that has to plan for others, estimate work, thinking about the production, milestones etc. none of the “theoretical” methodologies really worked out for me but just took my time. And in most cases this time is very limited. Estimations have to be given instantly to evaluate feasibility, plans have to be set-up initially to have a higher model to work and further estimate on. So, time is of the essence not only in the plan itself but also for the time to create it. And if I have to rework it all the time (real-life) I do not want to spend too much time in that phase (no time for building up charts with optimistic, pessimistic and realistic plans…).

…should be enough!

In a coincidence Jake Simpson gave a pretty good impression of this wonderful land, where everything works out. It is known as Should Be Land. This is normally the land where the estimations come from, too. From developers that should estimate their tasks, should give away an idea how long each of it could take to make a plan that also has to tie in with other departments (lean everywhere). If such an estimation fails because “36 hours should be enough!” more often others that depend on you are delayed, too.
Especially inexperienced developers, juniors and fresh “hackers” from the backyard tend to underestimate especially the requirements in correlation with others, to plan interfaces, to build adapters to dock onto others and so on. Nevertheless, seniors aren’t better in general. All people that “program” stuff normally just plan the programming time… and they do not want to plan too much time as the developer is often assessed based on his Cph (Code per hour) output and not based on his quality of code, re-usability, extendibility or tests. The results are in many cases optimistic estimations with no or little time to even plan what you are going to develop.

…am no developer!

Another often misleading planning element is that (many) project managers, scrum masters, gantt-junkies, … do not have the best development background. Therefore, the estimations given are taken as fixed. Experienced managers add an amount of 30% and plan it in. This is unfortunate as even the best estimation cannot just be coped by some time-addition if essential points that are requirements for good development are missing.

One of Two of Three

Besides complicated methodologies or the adding of just 30%-50% of time to an initial estimation given, I split it up into the three tasks I want to see as an output from a developer: The implementation (or coding, hacking, programming, refactoring, …), the planning and the tests!

  • The development is the actual implementation of the task. It may be the creation of a user-system, achievements, tool, crafting, … whatever comes to mind
  • The planning is the structuring of work, the evaluation of patterns, architecture and interfaces to follow during development and precedes it accordingly
  • The testing is no QA process but the personal testing of code, writing of (unit-)tests, maybe even playing the created and succeeds the development

Now, instead of adding a specific amount to a given estimation I add tasks to the estimation. My input is the implementation estimation from a developer. Based on that I add two thirds as planning and one third of that as testing resulting in the three tasks of implementation, planning and testing with a weight of 1/3 of 2/3 of 3/3. For example, if an estimation is 9 hours, I add a task for planning with 6 hours and a task for testing with 2 hours.

Yes, the result is a very keen estimation but the important part for me is that it covers mandatory tasks that are often forgotten and is also able to compensate for possible misjudgement, unforeseen circumstances, … as the package is given as one. The creation of these tasks remind the developer what he “should” do, and the derived estimations compensate for possible problems as well as they fit the real necessity for the other tasks (at least in my experience).
The tasks are important as normally you do not start hacking instantly. To evaluate existing code, interfaces and elaborate what architecture or pattern to use is often more practical and a necessity in general before starting to implement (to think something through before starting programming). To already know what the result should be helps the implementation. And the testing part may be the coders worst nightmare but again a requirement.

The most important point for me is: It’s easy! I can easily derive it in my mind, do have a most-likely accurate estimation (future may prove me wrong ^^) and won’t forget the importance of planning and testing.
If you follow up different approaches the weighting can also be adapted either by mixing tasks or changing the base weight. For example, if you are following a Test-first approach you can either switch the planning and testing tasks, as the testing in TDD also compensates planning partly. Or you can change the base to 4 and plan 1/4 of 3/4 of 4/4 meaning for our example implement 8 hours, test-first for 6 hours and plan for 2 hours (bare with me as I selected easy to calculate estimations).
What base to use depends on personal experience, the project and just the most important gut feeling. For me myself a third for general estimations and a fifth (1/5 of 2/5 of 5/5) for more specific tasks paid out. But all in general split up into my three main tasks I instantly have an estimation ready that fits at least my real-world.

…should work!

Please keep in mind this has no theoretically proven background but my experience over the years experimenting with different approaches and using the methodologies given in literature. Everything depends on your environment and personal likes and dislikes. It “should” work for other instances, too. I used it in several personal standalone and living project estimations and at least for now it was fitting best.
In my environment, with the time given and the amount of work to do this approach works. It is never really off the track, it reminds people about planning and testing besides the actual hacking and helps me to easily keep track about developments without spending too much time in overblown concepts that do not fit my personal habits or the “real” developer.
Of course, there are also drawbacks, such as too little/too much planning. If you split up e.g. User Stories to have tasks such as: Build divideByZero() function; Create class object; Write SQL Statement for querying all users; … you will end up in unnecessary tasks because of the simplicity. In such cases, the User Story “should be” the one to estimate and divide onto the tasks or you reduce the base and introduce a zero/x task.
Therefore, this may not be the 100% 1-3 approach but it fits me best and therefore leads me into that frame more often as the important thing is the variance that fuels this approach… and that can make it work for you, too!

Written for #AltDevBlogADay

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