Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Everything is harder than you think

From Wikipedia Commons
My title is a cliche, of course. Everybody knows this. Whenever you try to do something, especially something you've never done before or haven't done in a long time, it takes much longer than you think it is going to take. I was just struck by this fact again today when one of my fellow engineers mentioned what a hard time he is having with the project he is working on. Then, just an hour later, another engineer mentioned the hard time she is having with another project. So, I wrote this to them:

I've come to believe that EVERYTHING is ten times harder than you think it will be. And twenty times harder than everybody else thinks it will be for you.
The second sentence is not really new, either, but it makes everything more interesting. We all know we have trouble estimating how long an unfamiliar job will take. That's because we don't know enough about it. As you dig into a problem, you discover nuances neither you nor anyone else thought about when the job was first proposed. But it's even worse when someone else, who doesn't have to actually do the job, is saying how much effort will be involved. There's just something about not having to do a job that makes the job seem so much easier. Trying to estimate the time a job will take is like only relying on what you see in the rear view mirror of your car before backing up. But when someone who won't be doing the work is estimating the effort of the job, it's more like not even looking in the rear view mirror before backing up. Just put the car in reverse, hit the gas and assume everything will be OK! "People will get out of the way if they need to."

I think we all do this to some extent. None of us put the effort into imagining how hard a job will be if we don't have to do the work. It's more critical when that other person estimating the work is your supervisor. But our opinions can carry weight when we are part of a group of "non-workers" telling the "worker" how much effort we think it will be. Our numbers make it hard for the "worker" to disagree. The group's estimate carries more weight.

No matter how carefully you plan something, there are always hidden aspects to the job. I believe this is called The Iceberg Principle. Most of the iceberg (89%) is below the surface so you can't see it. Just like a new project. My conjecture is that when someone else is deciding the effort a job will take and is not doing the work themselves, that number rises to 94% of the job being hidden for that person. But I have resolved to try to cut down on this. When I am estimating the effort for a job someone else is going to do, I am going to try to imagine how I would do that job. I am going to actually think about the steps that will need to be taken. Maybe others will return the favor.

The image is from Wikipedia Commons. Doesn't look that big, does it?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

I was so proud of myself. I found the perfect gift for my wife for Mother's Day. The kids already had their gifts for her and I already a gift for my mother. My gift was something I knew she wanted but I wasn't expecting to find it. It was one of those exciting times when you just bump into the right thing. I wasn't out looking for it. It just happened. I was in a store and I turned around and there it was!

We were out one day a few weeks ago and Cindy mentioned that she wished she had a small purse. Something that would just hold a little cash, some credit cards and her keys. She has some nice purses but they are all large and, "sometimes they're just too much to take where you're going," she says. So, here I was in a store, turned and saw the little bag in the picture in the upper right. It was one of her favorite colors and it was small. It had a few compartments so she could organize things. I was set. I was the perfect husband (for a little while). It was going to be a great Mother's Day. Then it happened.

We all went to church this morning. That's a good thing, isn't it? Recently, our church has been giving out small little gifts to the mothers on Mother's Day. That's a good thing, isn't it? Guess what they were giving out today? Today's gift was a small purse that could just hold a little cash, some credit cards and her keys. I was floored. The little purse they gave out is in the picture on the left. And it's one of her other favorite colors. How could God let this happen? Hadn't I done all the right things?

So, was the day going to be ruined? Well, I had sold myself (and my wife) short. She loved my gift. My bag came with a little strap and the church bag didn't. My bag had compartments and the church bag had just one zippered pouch. My bag was a little larger but not too large. She liked it so much, she took it with us when we went out to dinner at noon. To tell you the truth, I'm not exactly sure Cindy likes my bag that much better but she likes me that much better. She knows how to make me feel like I'm the King of the World. And I'll love her forever for it. Happy Mother's Day, Sweetheart.