Estimation Peril: How To Estimate Software Projects Effectively(or How Not To Lie)

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Consider, you are a rockstar engineer and you are given a task by your favorite person, your project manager, to show some new fields in the dashboard.

As usual, you are asked to estimate it as soon as possible. You think that well, seems like a quickie and you are tempted to estimate it a day. But you, being burnt before, decided to look at the fields that are to be added carefully. These fields are for analytics. You think, ok, let’s make it 2 days then. But being more cautious, you dig deeper and find that those analytics are not even being tracked on the app.

Now to complete the story, you’ll have to track the analytics, send them to the server, make the backend accept those and store them, show these on the dashboard, write tests etc….

What seemed a simple task is now a 1-2 week thing. Very hard to estimate. And your manager was expecting a response like, “would be done by end of day”.

What is the problem with estimates?

The main problem with an estimate is that the “estimate” gets translated into commitment. And when you miss a commitment, you breed distrust.

Most estimations are poor because we don’t know what they are for. They are uncertain. A problem that seemed simple to you on the whiteboard, turned out not to be so simple. There were non-functional requirements, codebase friction, some unfortunate bugs etc. We deal with uncertainty.

There is a rule in software engineering that everything takes 3X more time than you think it should, and this holds true even when you know this and take it into account!

Estimates can go the other way too, that is when you overestimate. This is as dangerous as underestimating.

What should an estimate look like?

An estimate should have 3 characteristics :

  1. Honest (Hardest)
  2. Accurate
  3. Precise

1. Honest : 

You have to be able to communicate bad news when the news is bad. And when the continuous outrage of your managers and stakeholders is on your face, you need to be able to continue and assert that the news is bad.

Honesty is important as you breed trust. You are not eliminating disappointment, rage and people getting mad, but you will eliminate distrust.

2. Accurate :

You are given a task and you estimate it to take somewhere between now to the end of the universe. That’s definitely accurate, it’ll be done within that time.

We won’t breed distrust, but we definitely will breed something else.

Which brings us to the 3rd characteristic.

3. Precise : 

An estimate should have just the right amount of precision.

What is the most honest estimation that you can make? I don’t know!

This is as honest as it can get. You really don’t know. But this estimation is neither accurate not precise.

But when we try to make precise estimates, we must note that we are assuming that everything goes right. We get the right breakfast, traffic doesn’t suck, your co-worker is having a good day, no meetings, no hidden requirements, no non-functional complexities etc.

Estimating by work break down

The most common way to estimate a complex task is to break it down into smaller tasks, into sub-tasks. And then those sub-tasks into sub-sub-tasks and so on until each task in hand is manageable and ideally not more than 4 hours of work.

Imagine this forming a tree, with executable tasks at the bottom as leaves. You just estimate the leaves and it all adds up.

This approach works, but there are 2 problems :

  1. We missed the integration cost
  2. We missed some tasks

There is a fundamental truth to work break down structure estimates:

The only way to estimate using work break down chart accurately, to know what are the exact sub-tasks, is to implement the feature!

What to expect from an estimate?

Estimates are uncertain. There is no guarantee that your estimate will work itself out. And that’s OK. It’s your manager’s job to manage that risk. We are not asking them to do something outside of their job.

The problem arises when you make a commitment. If you make a commitment, you must make it. Be ready to move heaven and earth to make it. But if you are not in a position to make a commitment, then don’t make one.

Because he’s going to set up a whole bunch of dominos based on that commitment, and if you fail to deliver, everything fails.

Some interesting links :

https://medium.com/swlh/your-app-is-an-onion-why-software-projects-spiral-out-of-control-bb9247d9bdbd

Uncle Bob on Estimates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eisuQefYw_o

Happy Estimating!

That’s all, folks!

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E-Summit ’17 IIT Bombay — Experience

E-Summit is the flagship entrepreneurship event organized by IITB. The two-day annual summit promises to be an amazing meeting ground for industry experts, business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs and of course, students, many of whom are aspiring entrepreneurs.

I attended this event in its 2017 edition and had mixed feelings on how the whole thing turned out holistically. There were some good parts and some not so good parts, but as a whole the event was worth attending.

There were many small talks spread on a 2 day course. Obviously, you can not attend all the talks, you have to select few of them according to the schedule and feasibility.

I personally realized that choose a topic that you are not familiar with as talks are pretty basic and don’t go to great depths.

Following are the talks and keynotes that I attended.

Day 1 :

  1. Keynote by Raj Jaswa :

First event of day 1 was keynote by Raj Jaswa. Most prominent thing he said in a nutshell was areas in which one should look for business opportunities.

Some being,

  1. Cloning and localisation
  2. Long tail business
  3. Adapt an existing business model to a new sector.

2. Digital Marketing :

This talk was presented by founder of E2M, a digital media company. I found this talk too basic aa I had already taken a course online on digital marketing.

Some topics discussed were,

  1. SEO
  2. PPC
  3. Social Media
  4. Emergence of mobile platforms

3. Brembo Company Presentation :

Brembo is a breaking technology company and a dominant force in the market. A manager from Italy presented the company’s operations in India.

He quoted a quote from the founder of Brembo that I found very captivating,

“Anyone can do simple things, but only few can handle difficult ones. We have to do difficult ones”.

4. Chat with Rahul Yadav :

Next session I attended was a Q&A session with Rahul Yadav, the founder of Housing.com.

It was nice to see him talking about his mistakes and telling people not to repeat them.

5. Wealth creating through financial planning :

This was conducted by Reliance Mutual Funds. In a nutshell it was all about SIP.

6. Keynote by Rajat Sharma :

The day ended by keynote by Rajat Sharma. He discussed his journey and his humility and wisdom was notable and inspiring.

7. Stand up comedy by Vipul Goyal and Sapan Verma

Nice performances by both of them always.

Day 2 :

Day 2 of the event was more power packed. I found the speakers and the talk topics, both to of higher level.

  1. Building a brand that indians love :

This was presented by an ISB professor. Basic point conveyed in the talk was that business customers have two currencies that they spend : time and money.

Thus, trigger point of all the businesses must be how customers are spending these two.

2. Protecting your brand : Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents :

I had no prior knowledge of patents and thus decided to attend this talk.

It nicely packed info on what, when and where to file the patent.

3. Startup Scaling : Overcoming key operational challenges :

Pressing issue of this talk was the resource visibility issues that startups face.

The speaker was from a company called OutThink LLC. They advocated that such challenges can be overcame by businesses collaborating and providing services to each other instead of doing things completely by themselves in isolation.

Here is where OutThink helps its customers by what they call at SRM : Strategic Resource Mapping.

4. Most Common Startup Budget Mistakes:

This talk was presented by a startup investor and mentor from Ireland.

The talk revolved around funding sources, funding advice and bootstrapping.

5. Final Keynote : By Bibop Gresta : COO Hyperlopp TT

The most exciting event of the summit was final keynote by COO of Hyperloop. He presented us with the overview of Hyperloop and how it is planning to carry its operations in India.

It was notable how fit and fun he was at the age of 40. Something that we can all learn from.

Conclusion :

To conclude, the summit was a thumbs up. It was not entirely the standard that I was expecting it to be, but still was Ok.

It was great if you have networking as the primary goal in your mind, not so good if you wanted hand on knowledge on topics.

Finally, it was nice to see other aspiring and existing entrepreneur facing the problems that you are also facing. Makes you feel that you are not alone and if that can pull it off, you can too.

The Blue Ocean Strategy : How To Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant

When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.
The whole idea of The Blue Ocean Strategy is to create uncontested market spaces that creates new demands and make the competition irrelevant.

The book describes Red Oceans as known market places that have bloody competition among businesses trying to win customers. Here there is a fixed existing demand of which every company wants a share.

The Blue Ocean on the other hand is an uncontested market place that creates demand for itself, which is not known to others. This makes competition irrelevant. Focus is on creating, not competing.

Value Innovation :

Value innovation occurs when company align innovation with utility, price and cost positions. Instead of using competition as the benchmark companies focus on taking leaps ion value for customers.

Idea behind value innovation if to break out of Value-Cost trade off.

Reducing Costs :

Reduced costs for the products are achieved by eliminating and reducing the factors that the conventional industry competes on.

Best example to illustrate this is the case study of Ford Model T.

Ford eliminated all factors like multiple colors and design variants and focused only on creating better cars for the masses.

Identifying Blue Oceans :

Identifying blue oceans needs managers and strategists of the company to brain storm on the strategy canvas. Where each manager holds his/her department accountable.

The strategy canvas’ focus must be shifted from competition to alternatives and from customers to non-customers.

Reconstruct Market Boundaries :

The author proposed a 6 step framework for identifying blue oceans in new market places :

  1. Look across alternative industries
  2. Look across strategic groups within industries
  3. Look across complementaries
  4. Look across the chain of buyers
  5. Look across functional and emotional appear to buyers
  6. Look across time

Reaching Beyond Existing Demands

To reach the customers in new markets, think of non-customers before customer differentiations.

There are 3 tiers of non-customers :

  1. Jump Ship : These can switch to competitors on any moment.
  2. Refusing : These are using competitors products.
  3. Distant : Product doesn’t appeal to these customers.

Examples of Blue Ocean Strategies Implemented by Famous Companies :

  1. Ford :

Ford standardized the car and made the options limited. This increase the quality of the car and brought the price point down.

2. GM :

General Motors found their blue ocean in making the cars fun, fashionable and comfortable.

3. Watson :

Watson computers introduced tabulators for businesses for the first time. They also introduced leasing pricing models which made it easy for businesses to own a tabulator.

4. Apple :

Apple created Apple II and tapped the new market for ready-made, easy to use personal computers.

5. Dell :

Dell on the other hand, found its blue ocean by changing the purchasing and delivery experience of the buyer. It allowed customization of the machines according to the needs of the buyer.

It is evident from the above examples that blue oceans are not unleashed by technology innovation per se but by linking technology to elements valued by buyers.

Strategy for Blue Ocean Implementation :

Two views on industry structure are related to strategic actions.

  1. Structuralist View :

Based on market structure to conduct and performance. This view on strategy deals with making sure that the company is making money in the red oceans.

2. Reconstructionist View :

This view is based on endogenous growth. It focuses on creativity not systematic approaches.

This view is responsible to find blue oceans for the company.

Both the views towards strategy are necessary to assert the company is making money is also exploring new markets to remain competent in future too.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : Reading Experience

The Japanese motorcycle maintenance guide says “ Assembly of Japanese bicycle requires great piece of mind”. There is a thing about everything you build, including bikes. If you build it with non-serene mind, then you build your problems into it.

The book takes you on a cross country bike journey that will teach you mind opening lessons that leave lasting impressions on your mind. Your mind will simple refuse to contract itself to older stage.

One of the most important lesson that book teaches you is to enjoy the common little things that life has for you. There is as much Buddha in cogs of bike, as there is at the top of the mountain.

Towards the beginning of the book the author says, “If you want to set out for the most amazing bike journey, you have learn the art of motorcycle maintenance.” The quote has so many meanings at different levels that your mind can explore the words in infinite ways.

As the bike journey progresses, author makes the point that the key to be doing great work is to be completely involved in it. Not like mechanics who listen music while working on the bike with no intention to make it great, the noise of the tools should be music.

How we see the world affects how we think about it. There are two ways to see the world, the classical way where everything is logical and the other is the romantic way.

Classical way of thinking runs the knife on views, something is cut. And when the logic in the logic is found, the beauty of the unknown is lost.

Romantic way of thinking is all about enjoying the continuum of things.

Quality is the thing that author says that you know what it is, but still you can not define it. Like you know what makes a tomato soup good, but yet you can not define what makes up its quality, both materialistic and spiritual.

World consists of three things : Mind, Matter and Quality.

The author was a student of University of California at one point, before his nervous breakdown. Studying there he made some amazing point on the thinking of Plato and Aristotle. How dialectic way of thinking is different from rhetoric way of thinking, but at the same time one doesn’t proves the other wrong.

My two the favorite quotes from the book are :

  1. “The only zen you’ll find at the top of the mountain, is the zen you take with you”.
  2. “The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquillity it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”

This is the best book that I have ever read. No matter what you are doing in your life and how old are you, this books touches your mind at levels so deep that you didn’t even think it was possible. But you’ll have to keep the beginner’s mind to learn.

As the author states, “sometimes it is better to travel than to arrive”. I was carried away with the philosophical ideas presented in the book and the serenity that the country side description provides.

Knowing that Chris, the son of the author, with whom he set out for this bike journey is dead was a little sad. But again in snap that increases the importance of all the lesson and the author was expounding throughout the book about life and zen.

A recommended read for everyone.

The next book that I have picked is “The Blue Ocean Strategy”.

Business In Boxers 3 : The Psychological Roller Coaster

One of my favorite things about instrumental music is that the listener is encouraged to use his or her imagination. I have been a huge Owl City and Adam Young fan since forever. Lately he is releasing sets of instrumental music called as Adam Young Scores inspired by incidents that made a lasting impression on the world.  Reading about all those incidents has made a lasting impression on my mind for sure, our small failures and success doesn’t even matter to the world, we have got to make it large.

This month has been a wacky psychological roller coaster. A slow motion wave on the ocean stirring my emotion up like a rain cloud. When you are trying to start something new and you know odds are against you I guess this happens, you become very paranoid in some sense. Each blow shakes your confidence and you have to build that up again. It’s exhausting some time. Here is where a nice snack helps 😀

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At start of this month we all were very keen towards making the MVP (minimum viable product) ready but my mentor and CEO of the startup where I am working suggested to do a market research and look for idea validation. So one afternoon me and my friend visited few shops and tried to convey the idea to them . Very few got the idea and showed interest. I guess demography plays a vital role here. We all made peace with it that we will need real tangible product to make people excited about it.

But soon things got hard. Workload at intern got high and juggling both my startup and intern got really difficult. This made me think that how hard it would be to manage it with a full-time job. This was the first blow. And soon other members of team took off for exams or campus preparation or god knows what excuse.

Lately realized that to become good entrepreneur you should know the shit you are dealing with. Though I know that we learn stuff on the way, but still first we should invest in our-self. That’s why I am learning rails and other things needed to run the company. Attention to details will cause a momentarily pain in the ass. But it will be worth all the while.

As an overview all startups working on similar domain look the same. It is the one who really dig deeper and strive for great brand experience that makes all the difference. This what I believe in and want to do.

That’s why I took sales course before going to sellers for local survey. This is why I was studying business plan of Vinod Khosla to know and set my goals. This is why I am honing my technical skills. It all comes down to this, you should believe that whatever you are doing can be hard, but in the end it will be worth all the while.

I guess now we are on track now. Now that I have stopped counting on the members who were just pretending to be part of the team, I can be sure of what we can do in certain time. We are now clear to drop every operation and just build the damn product. Period. After 8 months I’ll be graduating and I want to be ready with a use-able product before that.

Meanwhile I am also trying to concrete the company goals. So that we can start moving. Breaking down to achievable goals with deadlines and metrics to measure how we are moving.

One more habit I am trying to develop is to write down my very specific goals for the day twice. In morning and at evening. It kinda helps you keep track. I have also started to workout and exercise more regularly than I used to, it’s good to do more of what makes you feel good about yourself because it reflects in all the other things that you do.

I am still not properly over of thinking whether I am making the right bets or not, I guess you can never tell. It like I am on emotional state of PMS.

But I know one thing for sure, whatever you do your job is to tell the story.

Thanks. See you next time.

 

 

Business in Boxers 2 : The Rainbow Shelf

As a 16-17 year old you try to figure out what you want to do with your life and then you just imagine yourself doing that. I am a kind of person who imagines stuff very vividly. Few years down the time river here I am, trying to work as hard as I can in the scorching summer heat on something that I always wanted to do.

Second month working on the startup I always wanted to do. Another month passed by, another month that makes you realise that time doesn’t stop for anyone. It doesn’t care if you have excuses, if you are not prepared enough. It just continues to flow. So the best strategy is to just go with the flow and moving forward, even if it’s the tiniest step possible.

This month I tried to put my full team to action. We bought the domain after many discussions on the name. We agreed to the name “Rainbow Shelf“. Personally I find this name very me. The word rainbow depicts my technicolor imagination and how I see this company grow.

After many arguments on what should be the core features that we want in our MVP, we finally got to a truce point.

Assigning roles to team members is something that you don’t want to force too much but yet you want that to be perfect so that it covers the strengths of every person. Out of hundreds of roles that you have to play in your startup, i wanted to make sure that everyone picks the one that they really love. Because if you don’t like what you are working on, what’s the point of working on a startup. I am still not sure whether I have got this right, but it seems to be moving in right direction.

While working on your startup you always have to keep on your helmet, just in case your heads caves in. Out of the blue some team member will raise concerns about the whole idea that you are betting on and you have to handle that and act optimistically no matter how scared you are inside.

During this whole month and for coming months, I am working with a startup based in Bangalore (http://healthgraph.in). The CEO is the best mentor I can ever wish for, seeing him work is what makes you push to go that extra mile and stay up that extra hours in a hope that it’ll make all the difference in the end.

One more lesson I have learned is that you just can’t expect every person on your team to work as hard and passionately as you. You have got to respect their capabilities.

At the start of the month, I created a timeline, a master schedule that we were supposed to follow. Recently I cut that into 1/3. Just so that we always remain on our toes.

Under thing that I have realised is that, don’t panic if you find out that your startup idea is already taken. Chances are that your idea is already present, if you haven’t found it yet then may be you haven’t researched that well. Afterall nothing is new under the sun.

Building a successful business depends less on uniqueness of idea and more on how you are filling the gaps in the market.

One more habit that I have developed is to read a good inspirational book the first hour and the last hour of the day. Just so that I can start and end the day with the correct mindset.

That’s all for this month. Stay Tuned!

 

Business in Boxers : 1 Month Into Running a StartUp

Why the Series? 

(Inspired by book : Business In Blue Jeans)

Hi! This is Priyank. This series is about me pen downing my start-up ride. Don’t know if it’s fast or slow, all I really know is I’m gonna enjoy the ride.

Why the name?

Boxers is what you’ll find me almost every time in and business is what’s always in my mind and thus the name “Business In Boxers”.

The Beginning

Last month on 15th Feb, me and my friend sat down seriously deciding on which business to start. The interesting thing was I did this with 3 friends. 3 awesome business ideas that are practical and scalable. Next, we 4 formed a team. A team with a vision to launch multiple businesses in a very short period of time.

Our first startup what we call as Pebbles Media deals with creating engaging applications for local business owners that can help them discover new customers in their locality. Cool idea that we all thought will get us many clients.

We approached 5 clients in different domains from food business to education to mechanical work. Two of them showed interest and we started working on their products.

15 days later one of our clients refused to pay the advance thus we dropped him. Other client wanted a custom product built for them at a very unreasonable price, again dropped him.

The Pivot

Witnessing all this, we all after 1 hour long discussion decided that it is the time for an early pivot. We never wanted to enter service based B2B sector.

The pivot that will need us to make products that will be used by multiple small businesses and their customers making us a product based company.

A pivot at this early stage raised doubts in our minds but I guess it was the red flag that we all managed to see and decided to pivot and not to run for quick money.

In Love With Business Books

lately I have been reading a lets of business books. Getting ideas and knowing how various aspects of a startup works. My favorite is The Lean Startup. A must read for everyone.

The Speed Breakers

No surprise here, first month has been filled with speed breakers. I was not expecting any smooth ride either. This month we have seen from clients saying no to all saying yes at the same time. Client giving us advance and then we turning him down because we wanted to pivot.

Wrap Up!

This month we dealt with real clients. Realized that we don’t want to go into service based sector.

For next month we are planning to get our MVP out in the market and test our leap of faiths. Too much action for next month. Let’s see what’s in the store next.

See you next time.

 

PS : It is fun to write blog when you are pretty certain that no one will read it 😀