Clients are never happy when hearing that you've underestimated how long a project will take in reality. In today's episode, I talk about how to anchor your estimations and keep your clients happy, and share a quick tip to get you there.
Related Resources from this episode
- Estimating sandwiches: https://developertea.com/episodes/9981
- Anchor Bias: http://coglode.com/gems/anchoring-bias
How do you keep clients happy? If you've got a creative or noteworthy way of keeping clients happy I'd love to hear about it. You can write me via email: email@example.com or through the Developer Tea email form.
Special thanks to today's sponsor: Harvest
Harvest is your time tracking tool built for understanding where your time is going. You can start a timer right from issues in JIRA or GitHub without searching for your timesheet, and turn that right around into a sharable invoice.
Try it out free for 30 days at getharvest.com. After your trial, enter code TEATIME at checkout to save 50% off your first month.
Thanks for listening, and until next time,
Enjoy your tea.
Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's short episode I'm going to be giving you a simple tip to make people like your estimates a little bit more. I'm sure that you have experienced this just as much as I have if you have been working in software development for a long enough time but it's hins to be the case that I overestimate my abilities and I end up needing to estimate higher. And that always frustrates people. When I estimate that I'm going to be able to get something done in five days and then it takes me seven. I've mentioned on the show before the estimation is notoriously difficult. In fact, we are incredibly bad at estimating things particularly on a time scale. It turns out that we are okay at estimating things on a relative scale but we're pretty bad on estimating them in an absolute scale. So there's a lot of intricacies involved with estimation and in fact I recommend trying to move away from estimation when possible but even still you're going to need to give some kind of number to explain what it takes for somebody to get you to do some amount of work. That is what an estimation is that is what a quote is. Somebody else providing you money for the work that you do. Now we aren't just bad at estimation in that we are all over the board. The way in which we are bad at estimation is that we typically undershoot our projects. We typically think that we can get way more done in a given amount of time. I did an episode about estimating sandwiches, go and check it out if you want to learn a little bit more about why that is the case, about why we tend to underestimate the amount of effort required to get something done. But the reality is that we tend to underestimate the amount of energy it takes to get something done. And as it turns out, this happens with just about everything that takes longer than half a day. We're pretty bad at estimating anything that takes longer than half a day. We can actually estimate half a day tasks pretty well, but if we're trying to estimate a larger project, something that's going to take a week or something like that, we typically underestimate the amount of energy necessary to accomplish whatever that project is. So how do we avoid upsetting people? How do we avoid a situation where our client or our boss or our customer thinks that we're trying to cheat them out of money or thinks that we're being lazy? How can we avoid these situations? Well, the first one, of course, is to act with integrity. This is a very important part of today's episode, act with integrity. So don't be lazy. That is important for other people to believe that you aren't lazy. You need to not be lazy, of course. The second part has to do with your estimation process. And very simply, you need to not underestimate in order to avoid a situation where you have to tell that client or that boss that you've underestimated the amount of time and that it's going to take longer than expected. I'm going to take a quick sponsor break and then I'm going to come back and give you some information about a cognitive bias that can actually work in your favor in this arena, especially when you feel that you have done everything right and things are still going wrong. Right after this sponsor break, we're going to talk about how to fix this problem. Thanks so much to today's sponsor, Harvest. One thing that all great programmers and really anybody who's successful has in common is that they know where their time is going and they spend it intentionally. Now, ask yourself, do you know where your time is going every day? Do you know how much time you're spending on every feature, every tweak or bug fix for a given client? Harvest is a time tracking tool built for understanding where your time is going. For developers, it takes the pain out of time tracking because you can start a timer right from your Trello or GitHub or Gira without searching for your time sheet and there's browser extensions for pretty much every browser. Not only will you understand how much time you're spending on client work, but you'll be able to turn your billable hours into an invoice from Harvest in minutes. Harvest integrates with PayPal and Stripe to make it easy to get paid. Harvest regularly offers a 30 day free trial at GitHarvest.com, but after your trial, you can enter the code T-Time, that's T-E-A-T-I-M-E, to say 50% off your first month. Check it out at GitHarvest.com and use the code T-Time. Of course, you can always come back to the show notes for links and for that coupon. Again, it's GitHarvest.com. We've been talking about the issue of underestimating and frustrating a client or a boss or a customer with that underestimation, having to go back to them and let them know that things are changing and they're changing in a negative direction. I need to tell you about something that will change the way you think about this forever, I think. That is the anchoring bias. I found this on coglow.com. You can find this specific page in the show notes. It's coglow.com slash gyms slash anchoring dash bias if you want to go directly and check it out. The bias is very simple and it is that we tend to rely too heavily on the first piece of information seen. I'm reading this directly off the page here. That first piece of information that we see. For example, this is how car sales work. If you walk on the lot and you see a sticker price and then a car salesman comes out and offers you a lower price, the way that you are thinking, the way your brain is wired to think is that they are giving you a deal because that first price is going to be the way that you compare everything else that you hear from the salesman. How can you take advantage of the anchoring effect in your projects? Well quite simply, you need to start estimating that things are going to take way longer than you think they are. The reality is things will take longer than you think they will. And it's difficult to determine how much longer estimating how much longer it's going to take than you originally think is a difficult process. But if you're going to be wrong, which direction should you be wrong in? Should you underestimate or should you overestimate? In the long run, the client will be much happier if you overestimate and then you come back and let them know that the project is going to take less time than you originally anticipated. Of course as we've already discussed, the client is not going to be very happy if you come to them and ask them to extend the timeline or extend the budget. So from the start, you should be overestimating the amount of time that you think it's going to take to accomplish a given set of tasks because the reality is your brain is wired to underestimate and overestimating is a more accurate perspective of how long a given project or a given set of tasks is actually going to take in reality. Now to be clear, you should never try to hide these kinds of things from your customers. You should never try to tell them that you know exactly how long something is going to take because you don't. This is only an estimate and you always want to explain that you are estimating safely, that you are estimating in a way that prevents the exact situation we discussed early in this episode, the situation where you have to ask for more time. Most customers prefer the safety of the padding that you provide by overestimating. Most customers would prefer to know and have clarity then to experience uncertainty and their budget having to change and the timeline changing. They would much rather have a safe timeline, one that takes into account all of the uncertainty of the estimation process. The added benefit of overestimating the amount of time it will take for you to do a given project is that you get to come to the client or your boss and let them know that things are going better than you anticipated. In the end, all of the math can be the same. The client can pay the same amount of money. You can deliver the same product on the same date. If you start it by overestimating, the client will be happier because of the anchoring bias. So start estimating that your projects will take longer than you originally thought and your clients are going to be happier. Because if there's one thing a client hates more than a project that takes longer than they'd hoped for is a project that takes more money and runs later than they were told it was going to run. I'd love to hear your experiences with estimation. I'd love to hear your overestimation practices and how you keep your clients and your boss and your customers happy when it comes to estimating and when it comes to uncertainty. You can send me an email at developert.gmail.com or you can go to developertea.com. That's where the show notes can be found for this episode and there's a contact form. You can fill it out and it will send me an email. I hope you've enjoyed today's episode of developert. I know that you spend your time wisely. It's so important that we know where our time goes. Speaking of spending our time wisely, today's sponsor harvest can help you do that. You track your time. You go in and you can track your time directly from Trello or from GitHub. Of course, the integrations with PayPal and Stripe make it super easy to use. Check it out. Getharvest.com. Remember the code TTime gets you 50% off your first month thanks again to Harvest. I hope that you have a wonderful day. Thank you again for listening to Developer Tea and until next time, enjoy your tea.