Sunday, January 2, 2011

Trust and Dates

I was in a meeting recently where a couple of developers presented some cool work on an iPhone application we're building.  After the meeting the discussion shifted to dates and a couple of senior folks were essentially asking the question:
How come it's taking so long to ship this product?
Throughout the conversation I was troubled by something.  Thinking about it afterward it was the fact that the question above, as phrased, is a question of (mis)trust.  Generally I like the people who were asking the question so I don't think they were saying:
What are you wasting your time this time?
How come you're not as talented as all those other developers who finish iPhone apps in 1 day?
etc.
However it was not difficult to turn their question into those.

I don't know the situation, but if the team had said "we can build the app in 2 weeks" and then later changed the tune to "we plan on finishing the work in 2 months" management would certainly be justified in asking:
You said it would take two weeks and now it looks like it's going to take over 2 months.  What things impacted your original estimate, and should we keep pushing forward to finish?
Are there any resources that I can bring to bear to help deliver closer to schedule?
etc.
Barring some previous discussion of schedules/estimations/etc. I think questions like "how come it's taking so long?" from senior (not the ones building) are almost always out of place without violating trust.  Hire the best people and motivate them to give a 110% and when it takes 6 months even if that seems long assume that they're doing the right thing and that they want to deliver as fast as the business does.

Back to the question above...  One final observation...  It was asked at the wrong time and in the wrong context; after a cool demonstration and in a relatively public setting (many people had left).  It should've been asked to a smaller audience at a time specifically dedicated to talking about the execution/delivery.

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