Inaccuracy may Inhibit

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Consider the effect of inaccuracy on Engineers when posing a task or asking a question.  It may reveal why you’re not getting what you expect.

Engineers are sticklers for detail — indeed, they’re so often held feet-to-fire for the finer details their managers don’t know, cannot fully comprehend, or simply don’t care.

Many’s the engineer who is pressed for an estimate, gives one (with or without variance indicators), under- or over-estimates, and is taken to task for the bad prediction.  Similar to asking a detective “when will you solve this crime?”, some engineering work cannot be predicted, and if the engineer explains it as a “Poisson distribution”, his manager assumes “poisson” is profanity.

Some engineers no longer even try to estimate: it’s more efficient to be wrong, and punished, without wasting the effort.

Often, missing details, and discovery thereof, drive the inaccuracy.  I recall one at USL saying “less than two years”, then offering to improve the prediction within a few weeks when the manager relented and gave some details.  The manager thought he was helping by asking broad questions with few details to “get a ballpark figure” whereas the Engineer can see how the answer ranges from 2 hours to 2 years depending on environment alone.

…and then there’s the aspect of promises.  Engineers don’t promise anything but quality.  They don’t commit to a delivery, they offer their firm attempts to succeed, understanding that the delivery might be met of some features are later dropped.  They don’t answer questions unless the answer is a relatively good degree of accuracy — or unless pressed feet-to-fire for an answer that will come back and bite them later.

Lying, or inaccuracy approaching lying, is not done.  It WILL bite them later.

Being asked for answers to exceedingly vague questions will result in non-answers or answers with equally vague details.  Being asked to rough up or down significantly will be met with long decisions as to which way to go.  If an Engineer is billing, and the effort is below a certain minimum, I have known some to simply not bill for such insignificant work.

Quantizing is inaccuracy.   … an hour, a half-day, a full day, these are simply varying quanta.  Rounding up too far will yield to rounding down to zero.

Increasing inaccuracy increases the chance that either zeros will be quoted, or nothing responded at all: easier to not answer and be wrong than spend hours answering and still be inaccurate to the point of unprofessional.


So what expectation is there that a timesheet in terms of half-days will ever be accurate, and not bite the Engineer later?  “did you really spend 1/2 day on the project you billed me for?”

Don’t impose inaccuracy on an engineer; accept the answers, record them, and if you want inaccurate or more vague results, round them yourself.

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