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Developing Your BS-O-Meter

Gauge_needle_2Somebody once asked me who the hardest resources are to manage in a project.  My response was simple:  IT resources.  Why?  Because they are the least predictable.  They run the gammut from "Oh we've never done this before... it'll take at least six months" to everything being "Oh, that's easy, a day... tops."  Generally, neither one is correct, but they amuse me in their efforts.  (NOTE:  I'm also highly appreciative of the technical skill they bring to the table, so I tend to cut them a little slack unless they are repeat offenders.)

I was reading a useful article by Luc Richards entitled, "Project Mangement - It's Just a Button."  In it, he describes his experience with a developer who offered that any IT change could be done in five minutes because "it's just a button."  People who try to dismiss estimates as inconsequential should take Luc's words to heart:

For one, this button needed an action attached behind it, which didn't yet exist. Furthermore, adding a button would mean updating the SRS, user documentation, and test cases. Finally, it had impact on other applications that were affected by the action attached to this button. Not only did we now need to modify these other applications, we needed to write an upgrade script for our existing customers who were migrating from an earlier release to this new and improved version of our software.  To make a long story short, his 5 minute button lead on average to a 4 day effort.

One of my most requested keynote speeches is entitled "What Your Project Team ISN'T Telling You" and we cover this very scenario.  Luc's telling of his predicament amused me so much, though, that it was worth the link-out.

When you have an IT guy who gives you an "off the cuff" estimate, start asking some of the following questions:

  1. Have you ever done this before?
  2. How many times?
  3. What is the longest this has taken you?  The shortest?
  4. Why is there a range between these two numbers?
  5. What are the biggest risks inherent with this task?  How will you handle them to keep it on track?
  6. What skills do you need to work on this task?  Can you do it alone?  (Tell me now on this or forever hold your peace.)
  7. What is this task dependent upon?
  8. What could derail this task?
  9. Who knows enough to sign off on this task and approve that it is done correctly?

If they cannot give me answers ... good answers... real answers... answers I can take to the bank... then my BS-o-meter starts going off and I tell them it's time to slow down and make them think this through... until I get the answers I want.

Once we can have a dialogue about tasks where I feel comfortable, then we can proceed to Carpe Factum!

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