Finding time to assess

There are many situations when you need to assess a project but the time you are allocated is not enough. Below are a few ideas on how you can find the extra time, so you do not have to reduce the quality of your assessment process.

There are many situations when you need to assess a project but the time you are allocated is not enough. Below are a few ideas on how you can find the extra time, so you do not have to reduce the quality of your assessment process.

Prioritize

Assessing a new project often receives a lower priority compared to tasks associated with a current project, as they are specific, clear, and they must be done now, while the estimate is an investment of your time in a future that may never happen. Especially, if the whole project team is extremely busy. This is mistake. The assessment should always receive the highest priority, as its accuracy largely determines the fate of the future of the project. This is because there is always a risk that a project might incur additional costs, which are due to underestimation or overestimation. According to Steve McConnell underestimation entails a lack of elaboration of technical solutions in the early stages of the project + extra communication at all levels, when it becomes clear that the project does not fit the planned dates.

The better you asses a project the higher the changes that your future estimations will be correct.

Asses the effort required to estimate

Time - a valuable resource for any person, requiring careful management. When you neglect it or don’t control it, it becomes a pest. If there is too much time you end up spending it on insignificant tasks. If you don’t have enough, it puts pressure on you, causing you to rush and make mistakes. Ideally, therefore, the time you spend must be set just right to make a qualitative assessment. This means that the time required for the assessment must itself be accurately assed. As a result it becomes manageable.

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Fight for more time if necessary

If it becomes clear to you that you need more time to assess the project ask for it. Customers and vendors far too often underestimate the timing required for an assessment, oblivious to the fact that a poor quality assessment can lead to unpleasant financial consequences. If a person lacks the time required to conduct an efficient assesment he will use intuitive thinking which often leads to a very optimistic view, even if there is no proof that it is so. Optimistic assessments are advantageous for everybody – the manager, vendors and customers – so they just accept it without checking its accuracy. As a result, when you cut time to a minimum, you can end up with over optimistic underestimations.

Create a new dynamic to accelerate the pace of work


Generally speaking, the assessment of the project is very different from the project itself. The assessment is more of a mini project requiring short and intense efforts. This requires a different pace of work compared to the relatively quiet stretches of time associated with project activities. Not all people are able to accelerate their pace of work and quickly give the desired result. You must set the appropriate pace with events recurring at regular intervals. For the project this may mean daily scrum meetings or two-week iterations. For the assessment of the process you can increase the tempo by conducting more frequent (and possibly shorter) scrum meetings. That is, increasing the frequency of feedback compared to how you usually do it.

Use an individual approach depending on how each person manages his time

To flexibly change the dynamics of the team, accelerating or slowing down the pace of its work when it is required, the manager must be competent in managing time. This includes an understanding of how each member of the team manages his time. Generally in a team you can have the following types of people:

  • The optimum type. Can successfully handle any sort of time constraints and solve any temporary problems.
  • Deficient type. Suffers from a shortage of time for every task but performs them successfully.
  • Quiet type. Experiencing difficulties only when he lacks time, the rest of the time he is self-organizing and independent.
  • Executive style. Successfully operates in all situations except when there are timing uncertainties. His relationship with time is based on his emotional attitude, a sense of order and satisfaction.
  • Anxious personality type. Successfully operates in situations when there is optimum time but he is extremely counterproductive under time pressure.
  • Suboptimal type. Doesn’t handle any type of time situations well.

According to this typology when you have time sensitive situations the optimum and deficient type will yield the best results. But for the latter typology you have to be careful. Because these types of people are known for their excessive unwarranted optimism in the estimates. They can be involved in technical decisions for an assessment project but not in the process itself.

Create a comfortable working environment for team assessment

Although some pressure must exist in order to create the optimum operating conditions, too much pressure is bad because it can negatively impact people who are responsible for assessing. Stressful situations are dangerous. When assessing, excessive pressure leads to the use of intuition and less critical thinking, which greatly reduce the quality of peer review, and give birth to distortions and errors. From the information regarding time management that we talked about above there are a lot of people that operate badly with time constraints. As a result your role as a team manager is to create a comfortable environment for your team.

Train, prepare the team for conducting an assessment

As mentioned above, when there is insufficient time to make a decision, you use intuition. Intuitive solutions can be good and bad. They are good and quite reliable in situations where a person already has a lot of experience. For example, firefighters, pilots and Marines are able to make quick, intuitive and correct decisions in an emergency situation that requires immediate attention. This is achieved, in particular, due to the huge number of hours spent in training, with the simulator. Unfortunately, in software development there is very little time devoted to learning how to assess more quickly. Only very naive managers expect all programmers to be able to assess their future labor and learn from their mistakes during the assesment. Therefore the modern manager must be able to do a lot of things - coach the team, give feedback to the team on the accuracy of their estimation, teach them how to improve the accuracy of their estimation and be able to change their own pace of work, depending on the time constraints of the task.

Create the necessary conditions so that your team enters a state of flux

Flow is a particularly optimal experience, when a person is completely focused on solving some tasks and achieving an important goal for themselves. In this state, he is most effective. With respect to time, this flows differently, it is a rhythm dictated by their task. That is to say, in a state of flux, we get the best use of time to address the problem of assessing something. This state is very difficult to achieve, but you can create a number of conditions that would assist with the flow.

  • An objective or purpose that creates interest and requires a large degree of effort and maximum concentration
  • The person's ability is equal to the complexity of the problem
  • There is no need to defend against internal and external threats and disorder
Minimize switching between tasks

Frequent switching between tasks is a known time thief. Besides wasting time switching also prevents you from fully focusing on the task (one of the conditions necessary for a state of flux). Therefore, it is advisable that people making an assessment, only deal with it and nothing else. This will help you give maximum priority to this activity.

Alex Koretsky
Consultant in Project Management and Project Estimation Methods

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