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.

IIMBx: EP101x DO Your Venture : Course Experience on edX

The best way to win is to show grit and bid on your strengths and intuitions. I have been trying to start my own company now for quite a some time. This course came into my mail box by edX, title looked captivating and thus I decided to take it.

It was a light course. Not much effort needed other that just watching the videos and doing some assignments.

The course was focused on making people get off with their venture from the idea phase to execution phase.

Throughout the course I was evaluating  my ideas and operations using the learnings given by the course and it has been of some help at least.

The course was divided into 5 weeks :

Week 1 : The “Do” Philosophy 

DO philosophy is based on “do or do not. There is no try”. There is a gap between intent and action and thus best bid is to don’t wait for halcyons days and just DO IT.

It proposed a term equifinality which means that every entrepreneur and his path is different and there are many ways to entrepreneurship.

It then provided interviews with various startups like Bums On Saddle, Hobby in a Box etc founders sharing their journey so far.

Week 2 : Opportunities, Idea Creation & Generation!

This week was focused on how entrepreneurs come up with ideas. Few of them are  :

  • Hobby driven ideas
  • Painstorming
  • Change in some rules and regulations

Each of these points can provide you with a nice venture idea. I already had my idea prior to the course and thus just thought about it again from these view points.

Week 3 : Idea validation and Evaluation

After the idea has been selected. We have got to validate and evaluate it.

Some if the methods for this are :

  • Personal feasibility
  • Market feasibility
  • Customer feedback

Best way to validate idea is to talk to customers. Real unknown customers. Not just people in your acquaintance. We here at Rainbow Shelf went out to talk to retail shop owners (around 10) and tried to explain them the idea. Response was not very encouraging but it was an experience that helped us.

Week 4 : Lean Canvas

This week was all about the lean methodology used in startups. I have read the book The Lean Startup  and thus this all made sense to me.

The 5 principles of lean startup are :

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere
  2. Entrepreneurship is management
  3. Entrepreneurship is validated learning
  4. Build, Measure, Learn
  5. Innovation Accounting

The course also provided a lean canvas that should be used by startup to assess their idea.

Week 5 : Effectuation

Effectuation, which is defined as a “logic of thinking, discovered through scientific research, used by expert entrepreneurs to build successful ventures“.

This week was about measuring the uncertainty in the entrepreneurship.

Effectuation has these 4 principles :

Bird in Hand Principle – Start with your means. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action, based on what you have readily available: who you are, what you know, and who you know.

Affordable Loss Principle – Set affordable loss. Evaluate opportunities based on whether the downside is acceptable, rather than on the attractiveness of the predicted upside.

Lemonade Principle – Leverage contingencies. Embrace surprises that arise from uncertain situations, remaining flexible rather than tethered to existing goals.

Crazy-Quilt Principle – Form partnerships. Form partnerships with people and organizations willing to make a real commitment to jointly creating the future–product, firm, market–with you. Don’t worry so much about competitive analyses and strategic planning.

 

Overall. I wasn’t expecting very complex and hard material in the course just normal guidelines stuff and this was exactly what the course provided. This course was offered by IIMB. And showed many startups that are incubated there are NSRCEL.

As of now I have taken many scattered courses on entrepreneurship from University of Maryland to MIT to IIMB. Now i have decided to just take the specialization offered by Coursera  and that should be enough for time being until my company scales.

I have now shifted my focus to learn more core technical and domain knowledge that will be required to build remarkable company that can stand out that bring value to its customers.