When Ambushed For An Estimate

August 23, 2012

Held captive in a status meeting, your moment of shame approaches. Vulnerable and exposed, like a naked baby laid before encroaching doom, you await your turn. Your peers’ bold claims, naive honesty, and feeble excuses are recorded for posterity by a stone faced facilitator. They work their way around the room, thinly masking disdain at any answer that is not a crisply delivered “I’m done”. Finally, the time of judgement is upon you. As you fumble to explain your lack of completion, you are interrupted by a question that has struck down even the strongest among us: “When will you be done?” Fighting back a swelling tide of emotion, you try desperately to think of what you can say that you haven’t already. Step aside my child, let me handle this.

“I’m not sure how to answer,” I reply calmly, shifting my body language to show that I am relaxed, yet ready for battle. The facilitator is caught off guard — never has a commoner dared to express a lack of certainty in response to a direct demand for delivery date. “Why not?” they reply gruffly, unable to mask their frustration. Looking distant and aloof, I move another piece into position: “I don’t have enough information to know how much work is ahead of me.” Infuriated by this apparent recrimination, they chortle “What information do you need?” I respond with, “I don’t know yet, but should in the next few hours”. Bishop takes queen-side rook. Check.

Stunned and confused, your opponent breaks out into a cold sweat, struggling to identify their next move. How can they now ask for a direct answer without appearing overbearing — or worse yet — disconnected from the realities of actually doing work? Surely there must be a way out, but every second that ticks away erodes their authority. In an ill-advised and clumsy maneuver, they let fly what they hope to be a killing stroke: “So can I have your answer by end of day?” With a rakish grin, my overarching strategy is finally revealed, too late to be thwarted: “That depends on how long this meeting takes.” Chuckles are heard throughout the room. Checkmate.

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