As a manager of a team of IT engineers, one of the toughest challenges is getting a handle on not only what everyone is working on, but what are all the seemingly unpredictable requests for work coming at your team. Thus whether you find yourself managing a new team or have been managing a team for some time but you are constantly being surprised with new requests out of left field, you may want to consider constructing a logical approach similar to what is being outlined in this series of articles to stop the surprises.
In the first article in this series, we identified the work request attributes of your team and built a list of sources of those requests. In the previous article, we developed some techniques to get out in front of the requests coming to your team. Now it is time to put together a way to capture that data in a meaningful way that will better reflect what work your team is doing and the impact of new work on in-flight work. This article will describe the benefits of using a work estimation template for collecting this information for more effective resource planning.
Let me start by commenting that I wrote and published the first six articles in this series around the third and fourth quarters of 2009. Since that time, I have been struggling with part seven in that I wasn’t able to succinctly capture a non-company, non-industry specific model that I felt I could share publicly with confidence. Thus, this series stalled at part six. Since that time, I’ve managed additional sets of teams in different industries and now feel I have a solution that is backed by personal experience and ready for public consumption and criticism.
The theme from this series of IT management articles is clearly that there needs to be data collected, documented and modeled to support ones management positions creditably and the ability to successfully commit to executing and delivering quality work. Through personal experience, the size of the company nor the size of the IT department significantly impacts the data model and approach I am proposing:
- Provide structured and consistent work estimation criteria to your team members.
- Collect that formal work estimation data into a single team resource plan.
Formal Work Estimate
Avoid the new manager trap of believing you and only you can make accurate work estimates for your team’s services. Force yourself to delegate that work to your team members. This provides a host of benefits, including but not limited to:
- More accurate estimate based on the skill set of the individual about to do the actual work and not your skill set.
- Gives team members a sense of empowerment and the ability to have an element of control over their destiny.
- Builds a capability in your team that allows you to focus on things only you can focus on.
- Enables more bandwidth for you to be objective in reviewing estimates and providing constructive coaching feedback to team members.
As Peter Drucker (or Robert Kaplan?) is famously quoted: “You can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Many technical people are great at executing technical work but they may not be so great and providing estimates for that work. Thus, one way to accomplish coaching team members is to sit down with them to talk through their original work breakdown estimates compared to the actual time it took them to complete each task. Helping a team member see where they can improve their estimation skills through data points can be extremely helpful since the likelihood future work will be based on current work is relatively high. Having that reference back to past similar work estimates contextually helps in future estimation exercises.
How does one go about creating a formal work estimation template for your team? I’ve recently written about this very topic of formal work estimation and provided a sample spreadsheet as a template for having your various team members provide data back to you in a consistent format for easy review. I encourage you to consider this article as a guide for the first part of this Single View of the Work data model and approach.
Now that your team is using a structured method for estimating work, what is the best way to compile all that data into something meaningful? Look for the next article in the Single View of the Work series to dive into how to construct a single team resource plan that builds on the formal work estimation you have your team providing to you.