16 October 2015

Estimation, we suck at it; and we should cherish sucking at it!

I was participating at a team meeting. It was an important one, everyone was there. The meeting began with the director's opening speech and then led on with different team managers. Typical of these meetings, and typical of the managers, to talk on and on and of course, we ran out of time. So, the speakers decided to skip some of the topics. They were just discussing the ones that seemed very important.


There seems to be an interesting topic coming up. The speaker decided to address that topic quickly. The were 5 important areas highlighted to be talked about. Let's spend one minute on this topic, the speaker said. He spent one minute on the topic. Then he noticed that he didn't address any of the highlights, so he read the first highlight and estimated to talked about it one minute. He spent 2 minutes talking about the topic (+the highlight) while initially he estimated only a minute. By the end of talking about the first highlight, he was 100% off with his estimation talking about the topic. When he got to the second highlight, it was the same story. I created a table to visualize how much his estimations were off. Consider this estimation was regarding a simple task of discussing the topic, which presumably he prepared for it.


By the end, it took the speaker 7 minutes to go over the whole topic. He estimated the talk would be only 1 minute. There was no one angry about it, why? Didn't the speaker waste 6 minutes of their life? while he promised that he is only taking one? No one was enraged either. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the talk and the results! No one complained and the audience seemed to be satisfied with the talk. No one really cared about the estimates at the end but the outcome! It was adding value to their lives and that was the important part.

We are humans. We are not good as estimations. It is not something new, it is something that we were born and lived with. This might seem like a disadvantage, but it is a characteristic we need to appreciate and cherish. Without the lack of precise estimation, our lives won't be ambiguous, indeterministic and full of surprises. If we were good at estimations, we could have planned for future to our liking, and to some extent even predict the future. I am truly happy that we are not. You should be happy too. So the next time someone complains why we are not good at estimations, tell him to be thankful for it!