One of the things I like to talk about is the dynamics of software projects; when the technical contributors think they are doing estimation, it is often really negotiation.
When a contributor doesn’t realize this, it can be bad. The person on the other side of the table is probably a professional negotiator – an executive, sales person, or marketer. So the sales person does a great job negotiating … and the contributor ends up promising the impossible. Three months later, when the project is supposed to be "done" but isn’t … the results are pretty predictable.
The solution to this, in my mind, is to set boundaries and limits, and stick to them, consistently. Give in once, and you’ve set precedent. There are a lot of ways to do it; in "Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management" Rothman and Derby recommend saying something like "I can not commit to what I know I can not do."
The real challenge, however, isn’t what you say – it is getting the guts to anything like that at all. So, if you want practice, I have one idea.
Some of the big box retail stores (Kohl’s, Toys R’ Us, and sometimes Radio Shack) ask for personal information that they don’t really need at checkout – like your zip code or email address. When they ask "Can I have your phone number, please?" Try something new.
Really, the person won’t hit you or yell at you. The worst that can happen is that they can try to make you feel bad – but they won’t, because they asked something unreasonable and you gave them a reasonable answer.
Try it three or four times at stores, then try it in the office. If you struggle with telling people "No", you might be surprised how far setting reasonable limits – and sticking to them – will get you.
Schedule and Events
March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
July, 14-15, 2012 - Test Coach Camp, San Jose, California
July, 16-18, 2012 - Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012), San Jose, California
August 2012+ - At Liberty; available. Contact me by email: Matt.Heusser@gmail.com