Accountability for estimates

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Sometime early on in my career as a producer, I remember seeing a designer argue with another producer. The producer was briefing in some work, saying there were two days to complete it. The designer thought it was unreasonable — it was more like a four- or five-day job — and asked who estimated the work. It turned out the producer had done it himself, and the designer threw up his hands and said, the estimate is wrong and it’s just not possible. The producer ended up having to renegotiate the deadline with the client.

Preparing estimates is something that is usually seen as part of the producer’s role, but in order to hold production staff accountable for the hours to be spent on particular tasks, they have to agree with the estimates. And to do this properly, you also need to make sure they understand the task in full, so that they know what exactly they’re estimating for.

It is ideal to get the person who is actually going to do the work to estimate how long it will take (both for accountability reasons, but also because different people work at different speeds), but where that’s not possible, it’s best to get their manager to estimate the work, since their manager is also responsible for their work, and sets expectations for them.

If the production staff and their managers are short on time, the producer might also be able to do a first pass of the estimate, noting any assumptions, and get someone from the team to sense-check it, as a bare minimum required for being able to hold the team accountable to the estimate later.

If a task is something simple or frequently-encountered, then these estimation approvals are less critical because there are unlikely to be any arguments about how long something should have taken. But for anything that’s complex or unusual, if you want the production staff to be responsible for solving any timing problems, then you should give them a chance to agree to the estimate before it’s sent to the client.

Also published on Medium.

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