It’s not that simple.

It will only take a minute. That’s easy, I’ll finish it today. We shouldn’t do it like that, there is a quick way to do this. Isn’t it finished yet? You hear these sentences every day, but why does everyone think everything we do is simple?

I hate it when someone says it’s simple. It makes me feel stupid when I don’t get it right within a minute. But that’s not the only problem. Because people say everything is simple, we are all overbooked. We start the day with telling what we’ll do and overestimate ourselves. When you believe the others, all you’re doing is simple. So what do you do? You take up some extra tasks, to fill your day. You don’t want to be the one who’s slowing down the team because he doesn’t understand those easy tasks. But we are not helping ourselves by doing this. We promise stuff we can’t deliver. That easy task takes longer than expected and before you know, you are making extra hours.

At work, it’s part of my job to make estimations of the work I do. Every task that is assigned to our team, should be estimated. Most of the time, we do this together. What you see is that some people always have very low estimations and others go for the higher ones. I am always tempted to go for low estimations, since you don’t want to disappoint your bosses. You know they have a plan in their head and high estimations will ruin that. But the more we underestimate, the more people will stop believing in us. Underestimation means delivering only part of what you promised and makes people angry. Unfortunately, those angry people sometimes force us to lower our estimations. Their smile, their puppy eyes or just their words ’It’s simple as that’ makes us soft and lower our estimations.

It’s like an addiction you need to get rid of. I try to conquer this by doubling estimations. If I think I can do it in one day, I ask two. I know that sounds crazy but it is reality. There are always things that pop up, things that interrupt your workflow and make you lose that precious time. You should also stop saying it’s simple, because it isn’t. Try to remember this: ’It’s not that simple’. Starting you computer is simple. No more battery power, problems with your harddrive, is it still that simple? Before you know, that one hour you needed for an easy task has passed by calling IT-support. And the next five minutes will be spend explaining your boss that the task hasn’t finished yet. Funny isn’t it?

Next time you estimate the duration of a task, think twice and avoid disappointment.

Are you a resource?

Last week I was listening to a podcast about agile development, ’This Agile Life’. They had an interesting discussion about people being resources and why that is so wrong. Are you often described as a resource? How does that feel?

To be honest, I do not like to be called a resource. But the fact is that I’m often called like that. But as stated in the podcast, it started all wrong with calling the HR-department ’Human Resources department’. Who has invented this? We are not resources you can dig for. We are not resources you can grab from somewhere and sell for money. No! We are humans! We are people that can think for themselves an have the right to be called by our name. As long as there are resources, they can be replaced. Ever tried to replace a human, a colleague?
Hard, isn’t it? Old-Hundred-Gold-Mine-Tour-Taste-and-Tell-03
We are aware that children, relatives and the ones we love can’t be replaced with a resource. But still we seem to think we can do this at work. We love to make estimations, count available resources and move them between teams like playing a board game. But what we tend to forget is that even at work, people are very important. Since we have our own ideas, we interpret stuff in a different way. This means that the tasks we do, will be accomplished in a different way and with different speed than if it were done by someone else.
What I see at work is that we make estimations for the tasks we think we will do in the coming weeks. When one of my colleagues drops sick, we look for a replacement in the form of another resource. We need someone to finish a task, estimated two days by our sick colleague. No problem, the other team has some spare time so they can miss a resource for two days. Guess what happened? After two days, the task hasn’t been finished and what was already done did not fit with the principles of out team. How come? Simple, the guy replacing our colleague interpreted the assignment differently and did not know our principles. When you reassign a task to someone else, their is always the risk that estimations are not correct anymore. We know that, but we keep believing that we can get away with this. I can assure you, that is not the case. In the almost 3 years I’m working now, I’ve never seen someone finishing a task of someone else at the same speed as that other person. We tend to say that it are only estimations, but that is not true. We are so focused on numbers that estimations are seen as real promises. If I do not finish the task within estimated time, someone will be mad about it.
Who’s fault is this? The HR-department. They should work with us as we are people, but instead they are counting us and figuring out how much resources they can keep with the money they get from higher end. I’m not saying numbers are useless. They can be useful to learn from. And of course money is important so there should be someone to guard how much we cost. But there are other ways to do that. Focusing on effectivity for example.
So I will tell people to no longer call me a resource. I can think, i can speak and I can sleep. That is why I have the right to be called upon my name. My name is Bart, not resource.

What can you do about it?

  • Rename your HR-department to ’People-department’. (I’ve got this from the podcast ’This Agile life’)
  • Do not replace your colleague when he or she is sick, but find someone who can help you to take over some tasks of your co-worker.
  • Add a couple of hours to your estimations so that someone else at east has the time to check in what timespan he can deliver what you promised.