Tag Archives: Schedule

Rules for Meeting on the Maker’s Schedule

Schedule your meetings in a way that is cognizant of the significant difference between the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule.

If you manage people who are building software or otherwise doing something that requires sustained, intensive concentration, then this is something you need to read:


The basic gist of the essay is that the “tax” of holding a meeting is many times worse for a maker (people who build things, and require sustained concentration to do so) than for a manager. The manager tends to view the day as a series of hour-long slots into which obligations, especially meetings, must be fit. The maker, however, tries to get large blocks of uninterrupted time, because of the effort required to get back into the creative “zone” after an interruption. For a maker, three contiguous hours are much more valuable than three isolated hours. A typical software developer will get twice as much coding done from 1:00 to 4:00 as she would from 9:00 to 10:00, 11:00 to 12:00, and 2:00 to 3:00, even though the total time spent seems to be the same in both scenarios.

After reading this article, I now try to schedule meetings using the following rules, which assume that I can see the daily calendars of the makers with whom I’d like to meet:

1) If a maker already has an uninterrupted morning or afternoon, don’t touch it. That’s golden time, and biting into it is like cutting open the golden goose. Find another time. (This rule decreases greatly in importance if the maker appears to have lots of unscheduled time, but most engineers / developers have a decent number of meetings that they need to attend.)

2) Try to schedule the meeting adjacent to existing meetings, preferably on the side that allows the block of time on the opposite side to be as large as possible.

3) If the above don’t work out, schedule the meeting immediately before or after lunch.

4) As a corollary consideration, schedule your meetings with other managers at times like 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, so that you will be free to meet with makers (as needed) on a schedule that is more congenial to their interests.

I’ve been trying to follow these rules for a month or so, and my folks think they make a difference. They report a little more time to tackle hard problems, and they appreciate the fact that I am cognizant of their scheduling needs . Of course, there are times when I have to violate the rules, particularly when the meeting is large (making it much harder to find common free time) or when it involves somebody who is chronically over-scheduled. For example, my boss has an amazingly small amount of uncalendared time in any given week, and so if I need to get him in a meeting with my folks, I’m pretty much bound to pick whatever free time he might have.

My scheduling concerns are relatively complicated because I have a geographically distributed team, part of which is on eastern time (Philadelphia) and part of which is on mountain time (Denver). So, for team meetings, it’s harder to get a time that works for everybody. 11:00 AM eastern works pretty well because the Philly folks will go to lunch right after and the Denver folks (2 hours behind) are just starting their day. 1:00 PM eastern is also good for similar reasons (Philly folks have lunch before, and Denver folks go to lunch after).

The difference between maker’s time and manager’s time is pretty obvious in retrospect, but most managers are surprisingly oblivious to it until it is pointed out to them. (I was.) Accounting for the difference is relatively simple, and likely to pay big dividends. So, I’d recommend coming up with your own set of rules for meeting on the maker’s schedule, and sharing them with the other managers in your organization. You’ll make your makers happy if you do.

How to Estimate a Software Development Schedule

At first, the only way to estimate is badly. Then, the only way to estimate well is to keep estimating.

If you listen to what different camps are saying about software development schedule estimation, you’ll find that much of the discussion can be viewed as riffs on the “agile” vs “traditional” divide. Undoubtedly, such discussion raises many instructive points about estimation techniques, but it frequently overlooks a basic truth about estimation:

Everybody is terrible at estimating the first few times around, no matter how they do it.

This principle is often misapplied as a condemnation of traditional estimation techniques. I frequently hear people dismissing traditional techniques, such as Gantt charts, because they found that some attempt to use the technique was largely unsuccessful. That’s a bit like dismissing the piano because you can’t play like Mozart the first time out.

Any estimation technique you employ will require practice. The first time you estimate a project of non-trivial duration, your estimates will likely be horrifically wrong. The same might go for the second and third times as well. However, sooner or later you’ll catch on to certain things (e. g., sign-offs always seem to take a week, Joe low-balls everything, Susan always forgets to budget time for her testing), and you’ll revise your estimates accordingly. Over time, the quality and fidelity of those estimates will undoubtedly improve.

So-called “agile” estimation techniques are smart enough to formulate this truth more explicitly, by emphasizing that you need multiple sprints consisting of the same team members in order to establish a reliable velocity. However, you’re not just collecting velocity data over those multiple sprints, as though you were dipping a thermometer in different parts of a pool in order to establish an average water temperature. You’re also honing the team’s ability to estimate things by giving them estimation practice coupled with near-immediate feedback on how good their estimates were. Over the course of those sprints, the team is getting their hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of estimation, and learning how to do it better each time out.

The punchline here is that somebody working with an agile method is likely to learn how to estimate faster/better because of short cycle times, but this doesn’t mean that traditional methods don’t work – it just takes longer to get good enough at using the traditional methods, and many folks give up after the first or second time out.

Much more important than any specific method of estimation is the determination to keep applying your chosen method until you become competent with it.