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A team member start listing fairly aggressive deadlines (for the project everybody is working on) -- something that is to be done well can take 4 to 5 days, and he lists it as 2 to 3 days.

The program manager and the CEO are both happy, because that means people will work overtime and salary is lower as a result, and faster goal reached, etc. People do get burned out and it is not so long term sustainable.

Are there good ways to handle it? I can talk to the management but sure it is a conflict of interest, because they want people working overtime and people don't want to always work overtime. (unless you tell them sprint for 2 months and we will give you 2 weeks extra holiday). If enough coworkers say this is not good, we can tell the management, but some coworkers don't care about quality as much (if shorter time just sacrifice quality), and some coworkers also like to please the management, and the remaining may not want to make noise to suggest that they don't want to work hard.

What are some good ways to handle this?

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Why a single team member alone decide for the team? – user2567 Nov 3 '10 at 11:11
How much detail is going into these estimates? Is it covering the time to write tests (first or last), do some analysis and design? Deployment? – Martijn Verburg Nov 3 '10 at 12:43
@Pierre because it seems he wants to become the "pet" of the management – Michael W Nov 3 '10 at 13:00
a rolled-up newspaper applied vigiorously to the nose can help. making him work all the overtime would be even better. – Steven A. Lowe Nov 3 '10 at 16:11
Management wants you to work over-time without pay, just about sums up your problem. – JeffO Aug 4 '11 at 21:13

4 Answers 4

If you get assigned to a task with an estimate you did not yourself, and you feel the estimate is not accurate, send the following email:

Your boss is named Harry, and the guy that estimated the task is called Snoopy.

Subject: Regarding task #XXX estimations

Dear Harry,

I've been assigned to work on the task #XXX. I noticed that the estimations was made by Snoopy.

I feel unconfortable with that estimation and I can't commit I will be able to do it in that amount of time.

I suggest that Snoopy do the task instead as he seems to be able to do it in less time than me.

I have a suggestion to avoid such situations. Why not using Planning Poker to do estimates? Planning Poker is a consensus-based technique for estimating.

It is a technique that minimizes anchoring by asking each team member to play their estimate card such that it cannot be seen by the other players.

The meeting proceeds as follows:

Planning Poker is a serious issue, not a game. But when you introduce Planning Poker Cards at your next release planning meeting, team interest level (and participation) will shoot straight up and, even better, you'll walk away with what is most likely the most accurate project time estimate you've ever had. Here's how it works...

  1. You create your required feature list as usual. Your Scrum Backlog for example.

  2. The most experienced developer (or the Scrum Master) for each feature provides an overview of the functionality for that feature. Team members can ask questions and participate in discussions until the feature has been fully discussed. No one is allowed to mention time estimates during the discussion. The Product Owner makes a note of the final consensus.

  3. Each team member selects a Planning Poker Card representing their estimate of the amount of time (usually Story Points or Ideal Days) required to produce that feature and lays it on the table face down. Again, time estimates are not permitted to be mentioned out loud.

  4. Everyone turns their cards over at the same time.

  5. Team members with high and low estimates are given the opportunity to make their case for supporting the amount of time they have estimated.

  6. The process is repeated until the team reaches a consensus. Preference may be given to the estimate of the developer who will be responsible for implementing the feature in question, but the Product Owner, acting as moderator, should help in the negotiation.

  7. A timer is used to ensure that each discussion phase does not drag on. The moderator or Project Manager controls the timer. Once the allotted discussion time has passed, another round of Planning Poker ensues.

The entire process forces each team member to fully think out their position and to be able to present their justifications to the team. No one has more authority than anyone else, and the project time line is developed without pressure or bias.

Check this out. (disclaimer: I'm the owner of that website)

Companies like Microsoft, Google, Ebay, Nokia are using that methodology. Why not you?

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Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law. However, props to you all the same. This might be the most accurate way yet of predicting project time, assuming of course that even stray estimates aren't discarded as erroneous data. – Neil Nov 3 '10 at 11:31
That's why "velocity" (or real factor), must be applied to the estimation you do. Human just can't estimate tasks with accurary if longer than few minutes – user2567 Nov 3 '10 at 11:46
Yeah, I wonder why not spend a good focused 8 hours to do the job, but instead spend 1 hour to estimate the time is 8 hours, and spend 7 focused hours today and 1 hour tomorrow to do the job? – Michael W Nov 3 '10 at 13:03
Love the email suggestion too. – HLGEM Nov 3 '10 at 13:11
+1, but I would remove the long suggestion for Planning Poker and condense it into one line offering a chat about it. Bosses have this neat visual filter installed into their brain where any line of text past the sixth or seventh automatically transforms into lorem-ipsum text. :) – nlawalker Aug 4 '11 at 20:46

A few reasons to find a new job.

  1. They see you as workhorses, not as human beings.
  2. They don't care about and definitely don't value the small guy.
  3. You WILL burn out, and they will lose productivity in the long run because of it, either by your lack of motivation, or filling your position by some other new hire.
  4. They are potentially sacrificing project quality by sacrificing 'quality' time.
  5. They are being reckless with their valuable employees.
  6. At the end of the day, they aren't the ones doing the work. They are going home to their wife and children while you neglect yours working overtime.
  7. Not to mention, they are the ones getting paid the most. They are taking advantage of you unfairly. Find a better organization, one that knows about team dynamics, preferably one that is employee owned.
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This in a nutshell, especially #1. A sane company doesn't think "If we force everyone to work overtime, we pay them less!" - that sounds like something I would hear Mr. Burns say on The Simpsons. – Wayne M Aug 4 '11 at 20:10
@Wayne M Perfect analogy, I have worked for that type before... not a good place to be! – Styler Aug 4 '11 at 20:27
If discussions with your manager fail, this will be your last option. In some cases, this is the only way to illustrate that forcing unrealistic deadlines, while "highly productive" in the short term, are detrimental in the long run. – Joel C Aug 4 '11 at 20:40

Ouch. It really depends on what type of person your program manager is, though if he's reasonable, try to rationalize with him. Sit him down and explain that while results are exceptional now, at this rate the chance of bugs are tripled. Even if it isn't evident now, if in 6 months time a major bug gets discovered which costs three times as much effort to resolve, in the end it was a net loss, not a net gain.

Just be careful how you say it. You don't want it to come across as some sort of a threat. If your program manager is a PHB (pointy-haired boss), I'd try to convey the same message in a meeting with him and his boss (and if you can convince some of your coworkers to join in, do so since it affects them too, right?). Be prepared to offer an alternative estimate, such as 4 days, which is not 5 days, but it's not 2 either.

I can totally understand where you're coming from. It's not in your best interest nor in the best interests of the company in the long term.

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Judging from his situation, his program manager is probably neither reasonable, or rational. I'd put my chips on greedy and cut-throat – Styler Aug 4 '11 at 21:04

I would make it clear to management that the time-line isn't reasonable if they want quality. Offer that there are better estimation practices.

If you need to throw him under the bus, do it during the latter. That way you can maintain a positive discussion.

If they consistently say they don't care about quality, find a new job.

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