How to make estimate (in software development)

By | November 18, 2014

One of the tricky question for a software engineer is to estimate when his code will be ready. It is a tricky question because ‘ready’ is generally not well defined. Ready can mean a lot of different things, depending to whom you ask. The developer might assume having his code working and tested, the program manager most certainly means available for ABTesting, while the leadership team is looking for the time when the change are available for all users. I have a mind list of the milestones that needs to be hit for any new development work, and I’m using it whenever I need to provide estimate or when I’m asking for estimate. It also helps to clarify what are the expectations on the qualities of the work that needs to be accomplished.

  • Analysis: about understanding the requirements and how the system will have to change to support them
  • Design: about closing the technical design (overlapping all involved team), enabling to have a clear end to end picture of the change
  • Coding: actually writing the code change
  • Unit testing: UTs can come before the coding if you live in a test driven development (TDD) world, this is about making sure the functions of your code are working properly in the obvious cases
  • Reviewing: having peer reviewing the code change
  • Iterating on Coding / Reviewing: depending on the developer experience, the criticality of the code changed, and the pickiness of the reviewers, the coding and the reviewing can be based on multiple iterations
  • Testing: validating the code is correctly behaving, even in non-obvious cases, validating overlap with multiple pieces works as intended too.
  • Experimentation / ABTesting: validating that your changes are actually bringing value to the customers and that your key performance indicators (KPIs) are, at least, still looking good (ideally they should improve).
  • Deployment: make the new functionalities available to all your users

Given the above list, when I’m talking estimate with my gang, I can get suspicious if someone tells me that he will be ready with his change in a couple of days!

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