Steps for A Sane Development Estimate

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“Send me your dev estimate.”

This directive is made by project managers probably 30 times a week. I’ve found that shooting off a quick email like “ten days” is asking for trouble.

The problem is that PM’s are interested in dates, and little else. They want your estimate so they can plan the project, so they can tell their boss when to expect the launch.

They don’t care about the breakdown of your tasks, or how much time each contributed. They just want to get that big red X put on the calendar.

So, if your dev estimate is “ten days”, the PM will happily count 10 business days off the calendar, draw the big red X, and make that the dev complete day. They probably won’t ask if you factored in your availability, code review time, or your time for supporting the testing team. They’re just happy to get a number.

Of course, things get ugly when it’s ten days later, and you’re not dev complete because you had two other projects to work on, and you had to wait on the DBA’s to dial up the new schema you needed.

To avoid these nasty under-communications, I follow a sort of template for estimating. Here are the main points I always try to cover, followed by a sample estimate email message I might send to a PM.

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