Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Still Crazy

When I started with TOWER Software four years ago, I was keen to get on with the job. You know, new project manager guy and all, trying to figure out what was what, and who was who. As part of this breaking-in process, I went around and asked each developer what they were working on, and how long they estimated that their current project would take.

I'll admit that I had a secret agenda - it's important to find out who are the overly optimistic guys, and who are the more seasoned realists, because you're supposed to adjust your project schedules accordingly.. Anyway, I collected all this data and feed it into a secret Gantt chart I had somewhere. Most of the team were working on features that were being shipped in the next few months, and I got the broad range of overly positive responses, which is pretty common. I know I'm a terribly optimistic estimator.

(Incidentally, if you're like me, my advice is to always multiply your estimate by the value of pi in order to give a more realistic number, with an impressive precision: 'That task will take me ninety-one point six eight four days', but I digress.)

In the middle of all these 'thirty', 'fifty', 'twenty five' day estimates, one figure made my Gantt chart look extra stupid . The young guy who was tasked with porting Web Drawer to Context had told me that the task would take three hundred and eighty five days. When I queried him on the figure, he returned my quizzical gaze with a very straight look.
"Well, I based the calculation on the fact that you Gantt chart boys are really into paperwork, so I divided the tasks and multiplied them by a factor of four as a documentation overhead, then I figured you'd want change management and stabilization factored in. I allocated a further factor of point five to compensate for those status reports and change notifications. I did the Prince 2 course, so I know about contingency time. When I added it up, It came to three hundred and eighty five days. If you keep asking me about it, it will take longer. See you next year!"
I thought he was crazy. But it turned out he was Michael Still.

Over the years, Michael and I became firm friends. He is a fiendishly smart guy, who's never afraid to speak his mind. He drove me crazy, but he made me laugh ten times that. We argued a lot, but always constructive and valuable argument. And so it was with a mixture of sadness and pride in his accomplishments that we farewelled him off to go and play in Mountain View with the other Googlers this week.

It's weird farewelling someone as connected as Michael (his farewell email was about half the length of his signature, listing all the ways to contact him), because although he might be heading over to the other side of the planet, I'm sure I'll still hear from him regularly. It's really just a goodbye to the Stilly-the-meat, not Stilly-the-man.

So on that icky note, Good Luck and Farewell!

ps. The Context Web Drawer project was finished in about four months.


  1. "One man's meat is another man's butt plug" - Andrew Denton on 'The Money or the Gun' circa 1992.

  2. Yuck! Words of wisdom from Mr Gay...