engine

Technical Setbacks

So last month, I started this Facebook group called the Legion of Badass and one of the things I do every week is record a special video only they get to see.

Except last week, I couldn't do that because YouTube was being a bitch. (I'm doing two videos for them this week.) And that's really the problem a lot of people don't roll into their time estimates and deadlines: what if something goes wrong?

Because let's take a look at what it really means when you upload your video to YouTube and get told it's the wrong file format.

First, you have to examine the file format and make sure it really is the right one. So you go back to wherever you saved your video, and you double check all the stuff, and you save it again. Just to be sure. Which takes about half an hour. Then you have to upload it to YouTube again, which is another 45 minutes or so.

This is an hour and a half, just double checking everything to make sure you didn't do anything stupid. And sure enough, it doesn't work - so you have to start over.

This is the part that just eats your schedule alive: finding out whether what you are trying to do will work takes an hour and a half. You can only try two or three things a day, unless of course you want to throw everything else you are doing out the window. Even making three attempts probably means working an extra couple hours.

And anything that depends on this video can't be done at all.

So if you need to try a dozen things, that's 18 hours - half a full-time week - just seeing whether the things you are trying work. And then you also have the time spent looking for things to do in the first place. Figure an hour per possible solution, and now you've got thirty hours of time just trying to fix this one 90 minute task.

And when you look at your schedule for what has to happen when, you don't have any time in the schedule for that, do you? You've got precisely zero time budgeted for "shit doesn't work and I don't fucking know why."

The general rule of thumb in project management is to budget 20% of your time for shit you didn't expect, and the way you do that is to pretend that time doesn't exist.

In any given 40-hour work week, you plan to do no more than 32 hours of work. Which, in turn, is really eight hours of work. Half of your work is excise tasks and half of the rest is assistive, so in 32 hours you're going to spend 16 hours doing stuff around the actual work and 8 hours doing stuff to make the work easier.  Then you do eight hours of the actual work. After that, you have to do the logistics, which takes as long as the actual work and is subject to the same basic rules... so that eight-hour project that seems like you should be able to do it in a day will actually take two weeks. and that's why everything takes ten times as long as you think.

Basic scheduling formula: take your expected time frame (hours, days, weeks, months, years). Double the number and bump the unit up one category. Half an hour? That's a day. Two days? Four weeks. A week? Two months. Three months? Six years.

This is creepily accurate in turning how fast you think you can do something important into how long it actually takes to do it.

One of the most common rookie mistakes is to think a "five minute" job will actually take five minutes. I have never known anything to take less than two hours unless you don't care how long it takes and have nothing else to do.

Add other stuff you need to do, and it's like magic. Poof. Everything takes longer. A lot longer.

This week I'm going to talk a bunch about different kinds of tasks, and something I call REAL scheduling. It's just some stuff I came up with while working in software, but it works pretty well for more or less anything - especially product creation.