Tag Archives: estimation

Episode 139 — Estimation

Adam, Brian, Carmen, and Jeff discuss the importance of accurately estimating time and budget as a practicing engineer.

  • Brian frequently makes estimates as part of his professional duties.
  • Detrimental effects of our anchoring bias are noted by Jeff.
  • We reference lecture notes from Francine Warner of Kennesaw State University in this episode.
  • In making estimates, one has to remember that people don’t like negative surprises. Thus, it is important to manage expectations.
  • Carmen reminds us to quickly and clearly share work-related problems with managers and co-workers.
  • It’s easier to sort out problems face-to-face than doing so via email, says Jeff.
  • Even though life’s events may break for us, as well as against us, Brian notes we always notice headwinds, but rarely appreciate an assisting tailwind.
  • Collecting opinions from multiple team members (with relevant experience) can help identify inaccurate estimates.
  • Estimates can be generated with a top down methodology, in which the cost and scope of project details are approximated from past experience.
  • When a bottom up methodology is used, estimates are generated from a close examination of many project details.
  • If a sufficient number of topic experts are available, another means for producing an estimate is the Delphi method.
  • Back in 2006, Jeff Atwood wrote a series of blog posts titled “How Good an Estimator Are You?”
  • Brian suggests our optimism bias allows us to undertake difficult projects.
  • Samsung made some inaccurate estimates of battery performance for their Galaxy Note 7 phone, recalls Jeff.
  • Several corporations have made rather bad business decisions.
  • Previously discussed in Episode 47, we mention Donald Rumsfeld’s Unknown Unknowns.
  • Jeff describes the problems of “feature creep,” which was also discussed in Episode 109.

Thanks to Robert Couse-Baker for use of the photo titled “summer maths.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 21 — Time

clockThis episode covers a few of the various ways in which time influences the work of engineers.

  • Chris has been busy refactoring electronic schematics; Jeff is preparing for a mechatronics course he will be teaching.
  • Despite our perceptions of time being quite variable, we often talk about work we need to do, or the distances we need to travel, in terms of the quantity of time that these tasks will consume.
  • As Albert Einstein put it, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”
  • Nearly all analysis problems one faces in engineering school are unaffected by the issue of calendar time. On the other hand, many real-world engineering activities are heavily dependent on meeting time deadlines.
  • One method for judging the temperature dependence of reaction rates is the Arrhenius Equation.
  • Accurate time estimation is important for project management.
  • Chris likes the concepts of Agile Management. One of these involves predicting one’s progress for the next two weeks.
  • Team cohesiveness is always important for acquiring honest assessments of a project’s status and future timeline.
  • Seasonal issues play a big role in the areas of maintenance and purchasing. Far reaching events, from Chinese New Year to Speedweeks, can influence engineering schedules.
  • Time is money. Need we say more? However, the conversion rate between these two assets can vary widely.
  • Some ways to get things done more quickly:
    1. Make social connections, both inside and outside of your employer’s organization.
    2. Plan ahead, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable to do so.
    3. Pay the price, when you’ve got the budget and you’ve run out of other options.
    4. Ask for help… EARLY!
    5. Broadcast progress on a regular basis.
    6. Manage expectations.
  • Time can’t be managed; its passage cannot be accelerated or slowed. We can only control where our attention is focused.
  • Some projects just won’t go away, not matter how much you wish they would fade into oblivion.
  • Chris is anxiously awaiting delivery of his new CNC equipment. More about this in the next episode!

Thanks to Matthew Kirkland for the clock photo, taken at the Old Town Hall in Prague. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson