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Someone changes your estimate?

I shared my talks on estimating and going independent at the Society for Women Engineers last weekend. There was one question from the audience during the estimating talk that really got me thinking. The person described their situation, which was that another department would request an estimate for some work from their department, their group would produce a thoughtful estimate, and then someone in the requesting department would alter the estimate substantially, often cutting the number in half. Then their group was just told to “live with it”.

Unfortunately, this situation had led to the group starting to double their numbers, just so they break even. That is a bad situation all around.

I didn’t have much of an answer during the session, but after considering the problem more, here’s how I would handle it:

First, I would meet with the other department. If it is just one person who is responsible for making these arbitrary changes, I’d only meet with them. I’d ask them in a non-threatening way why they think they are better at estimating my work than me. I’d bring statistically data that demonstrated why this was less accurate. I’d also point out to them that I felt no obligation to attempt to meet their changes, and that this was an unacceptable situation.

I’d point out to them that this was disrespectful and unacceptable. At a minimum, there should have been a discussion about the numbers and how I arrived at them, not just arbitrary changes.

At this point, you could expect one of two things to happen, I think. Either the person will take it seriously and promise not to do it again. OR they will blow you off.

If they don’t take it seriously, then you have the choice of living with it, escalating it to someone else, or looking for new work.

I realize there are no easy answers to this. But I’d have a serious conversation about it that was non-emotional and focused on the issues. My guess is that, in some cases this would be successful.

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, March 12, 2012.

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