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Interval Thinking

Published 4/6/2016

In today's episode, we'll discuss a perspective, "interval thinking", that could help return your estimation efforts to a more sane place.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I'm going to be talking about thinking in intervals. Today I'm going to share with you a very simple concept that you can use when estimating pretty much estimating anything actually. Estimation can be a daunting task. We've talked multiple times about concepts related to estimation. For example, the episode regarding sandwiches, I'll leave a link in the show notes for you to check that episode out. So today we're going to be talking about estimation. We're going to be talking about thinking in intervals. Today's episode is sponsored by Leno. With Leno, you can instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Leno Cloud. You can get a server running in just seconds with your choice of Linux distribution resources and node location. Check out Leno.com slash Developer Tea. We will talk more about what Leno has to offer Developer Tealisteners later on in today's episode. Estimation is hard. It's hard because we're stuck trying to decide from a very long zoomed out view what a very detailed estimation of some total is. For example, we look at a project and we estimate that it will take, let's say, 50 days to complete that project. But let's say each day we actually work an extra hour longer than we thought. Or perhaps it takes that amount of time on the end of the project longer than we expected. Ultimately, we're going to take about six extra days beyond our budget. It's actually more than six days. It would be a total of somewhere around a 12.5% loss on that estimation. Now, if that happens over and over, if we lose 12.5% over the course of a year, that's probably going to remove all of our profit margin or at least a large chunk of it. And ultimately, a company can't survive under those conditions. If we constantly are underestimating by that large amount, even though it feels like not that much, just an extra hour or so, that can cause major issues. It can cause a company to go under if it goes for too long. So how can we fix this problem of under estimation? This is the topic of so much conversation, for example, in the Agile world where we do story points, a very common fix to the problem is to try to estimate things not in time, but rather in story points because we typically are pretty bad at estimating time. We're better at estimating effort. But it's not just estimation. Today's principle can extend to every part of your life, including your daily task management, your financial goals and even your personal goals. Let's say you want to lose a couple of pounds. This can actually help you think about the process, the day by day process that would be necessary to accomplish those personal goals. We talked about personal goals in the past couple of episodes with regards to taking that plan down to the day to day level. Now, we're going to talk about today's principle that I want to share with you that I think is going to help your estimation processes right after we talk about today's sponsor, Linode. With Linode, you can be up and running with your root access. You log in as root through SSH to your perfect configuration in just a few minutes on a super fast SSD powered Linux server. Linode provides eight data centers and plans that start at just $10 a month. You get hourly billing with a monthly cap on all plans and add-in services. So, for example, backups, no balancers and long view. Linode provides VMs, for example, with root access for full control. You can run a Docker container, could run an encrypted disk or a VPN. You could even run your own private get server. Linode has native SSD storage with a 40 gigabit network internally and Intel E5 processors. So, speed is not a problem on the Linode network. Beyond that, they have a seven day money back guarantee. So, you really have nothing to lose here. And if that wasn't enough, Linode is providing Developer Tealisteners with $20 of credit at checkout, totally for free, by using the code Developer Tea 20. You can have that credit applied automatically, but going straight to Linode.com slash Developer Tea. And of course, that link will be in the show notes at spec.fm. Thanks so much to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So, we've been talking about estimation. We've talked about it in the past. This is a notoriously difficult task to accomplish as a developer or a product owner or maybe you're a project manager. And about this principle that I believe will change the way you think about estimation and really could change the way you think about planning pretty much any area of your life. And I want you to share this with people if you think it's going to be impacting because it has totally changed the way I think about my life. Quite simply, I want to shift your way of thinking from infinite continuums and instead to thinking in intervals. Instead of thinking in infinite continuums, for example, when estimating thinking in seconds, minutes, or even hours, and instead thinking in intervals, think in larger blocks. So instead of thinking in seconds, minutes or hours, you think in days or maybe in weeks. An interval is a set distance from one marking point to the next. For our purposes, an interval maybe an eight hour day or perhaps a one week block of time. If you plan your projects based on how many days it will take, rather than how many minutes or hours they may take, the amount of time and energy you spend planning will immediately be relieved and your estimations are going to become more accurate. Start planning your days, your projects, and your future plans in larger intervals. So why is this effective? Why does it work so well? Well, because it works on the law of averages, when you try to plan everything down to the minute, you automatically allocate your resources based on those minute to minute plans. The problem is you expect those plans to be exactly right. So when you start thinking in intervals, you plan based on those intervals and your margin of error on average begins to equalize itself. In other words, you may be off by one prediction by 5%, but on the next prediction, you could be off by negative 5%. The reality is, if you use intervals in conjunction with ranges for prediction, which we've talked about in the past as well, you can increase your level of accuracy greatly. And here's the important part, you decrease the amount of energy you put into estimation and planning. You decrease the amount of energy you put into estimation and planning and you rely on the rule of averages to help even out the gains and losses in the end. The rule of averages says that eventually things even out. If you estimate one direction, if you're really bad at estimating in the negative, then eventually you shift your estimation and you may end up estimating more to the positive. You may underestimate or overestimate. And as you go down that path of underestimating and overestimating, those errors are going to even themselves out. They're going to average out in the end. Aiming at a larger target will simply increase your accuracy. Aiming at a larger target will simply increase your accuracy. This will help you plan and will create a different mindset when it comes to planning that allows for flux and invites change. And here's the important part that I don't want you to miss out on. If your planning methods make change a bad thing, then your planning methods may have a strongly negative effect on your end product. If your planning methods make change a bad thing, if they say that change is ultimately hurtful towards you, then your planning methods, the way that you go about trying to estimate these things, those planning methods may have a strongly negative effect on your end product. Instead, you should shift your planning and process to invite change. Use intervals instead of infinite continuums for your estimation and you're inviting change because those intervals allow for that error. They can basically, there's a lot of play. There's a lot of room to move inside an interval. Think about your career in three or five year chunks rather than one week at a time. Think about a development project in terms of weeks instead of minutes. Think about your personal budget in terms of $100 rather than pennies. This ultimately frees your time and allows you to focus on creating more value and doing the thing you are estimating rather than trying to hit an impossibly small target in the process of estimating. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea. I hope this has been helpful and I hope that this will spark some conversation between you and the people you work with, perhaps you and your family as well and you and your friends. Thank you so much again for listening to today's episode and thank you to Linode. If you are looking for a cloud hosting provider, Linode may be the perfect option for you, especially if you want root access on a Linux server. Go and check it out. Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Of course, that will be in the show notes at spec.fm. There are other shows on the spec network that you may love. Go and check it out. Spec.fm. There's a ton of awesome content for developers and designers to level up. You can follow me on Twitter at at Developer Tea. Of course, if you're enjoying the show, please leave a review in iTunes. This is the best way that you can help other developers just like you find and enjoy Developer Tea. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.