A Year’s Worth

Kent Beck
Kent Beck
Jun 7, 2019 · 2 min read

What does a year’s worth of work look like?

That’s the question that faced me recently. I was working with a team that needed to communicate about what they would do in the year to come (we can have the conversation about why they needed to communicate this some other time). They had done the sensible thing of:

  • Listing all their tasks
  • Estimating them
  • Putting them on a timeline

I cringed when I saw this diagram. A year is forever. I knew, we all knew, that:

  • Those aren’t the tasks that are going to get done
  • Those aren’t the actual durations of the tasks
  • That isn’t the sequence in which they will be done
  • No slack = no chance

At the same time, we weren’t entirely ignorant (new biz card motto: “Not entirely ignorant”). We knew where we would start. We knew, vaguely, some of the task dependencies. We could guess at relative sizing.

How to convey this information without accidentally introducing unintended precision and certainty?

Here’s what I came up with:

The concentric circles are 1 year’s worth and 2 year’s worth of effort.

The task circles are sized by effort on the same scale — more effort = bigger.

Things we’re more certain of doing are closer to the center (doesn’t really show up in this example).

There’s no effort to perfectly tesselate the effort circle. This introduces automatic slack into the schedule. It’s also self-adjusting — the bigger the tasks, the more slack.

Task circles overlapping the 1-year boundary suggests that those tasks are at risk.

Kent Beck

Written by

Kent Beck

Kent is a long-time programmer who also sings, plays guitar, plays poker, and makes cheese. He works at Gusto, the small business people platform.

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