On Time Estimating

I needed to replace the kitchen faucet over the weekend. I’ll spare you the details of how long it takes a wife to pick out the faucet she’d like and how many stores it requires to visit in order to find that faucet (or to ensure you really have found the right one). As fun as that side discussion may be, it’s not the point of this post.

This post rather is about time estimation. As in how long is it going to take to remove the old faucet and install the new one.

Now I’ve replaced faucets before. It’s not something I do all the time but it is something needing to be done from time-to-time. I’ve done it enough to have experienced the various kinds of problems one can encounter while doing the job.

Having a very busy family schedule I employed that experience to determine the block of time I was going to need in order to get this new faucet installed. Experience dictated 3 hours would be sufficient. More than enough in fact. So I blocked out the time needed so it wouldn’t interfere with any other activities.

I was relieved to discover there were in fact shut-off valves for the sink. Though they weren’t under the sink. They were in the basement below the sink. At least they weren’t frozen (a common problem) and were able to be easily shut-off. Score!

Likewise the supply lines were simple to remove. No frozen nuts or anything. By this time I was thinking I had seriously overestimated the time it would take to get this faucet out. I was thinking about what beer I was going to enjoy when I finished early.

This was a 3 hole installation and it was one of those deals where there’s a bolt protruding down through the outside holes and a nut, sort of like a wing nut in this case and made of plastic, threaded onto the bolt from the underside. I practically effortlessly removed the nut on the cold water side. Of course I wouldn’t be writing this entry if the same would have been true for the hot water side.

That nut was frozen on. Actually the bolt had rusted and so the nut wasn’t going anywhere. So as turns the nut so turns the bolt. And of course this is in a nearly impossible to reach location anyway, nevermind managing the trick of getting a box wrench on the nut and a pair of vise grips on the bolt to hold it.

The nut being made of plastic turned out to be a drag. Got chewed up, though it still wouldn’t budge. Time to get out the channel locks to try to grip the wings of the nut, while using the vice grips to hold onto the bolt. While I’m positioned under a garbage disposal and plumbing all of which I dearly don’t want to remove just to get this nut out.

About 45 minutes and a liberal amount of WD-40 later, I had that nut off. Ah! Now the faucet will simply lift out!

Not so fast. Turns out there’s a U-shaped bracket on the center piece having a nut fastened to a protuding nipple from the faucet stem. This was a regular old brass hex nut. Rusted. Sigh. Again, 30 minutes and a liberal amount of WD-40 later and I had that nut off too. Now the faucet lifted out.

The new faucet installation was fairly uneventful, until it came time to do the dreaded leak check. That’s when you think you have everything hooked up and you turn the water back on and check if anything, usually the supply lines, are leaking. Remember how I said the shut-offs were located in the basement under the sink? And I live in a ranch house? And the distance from the sink to those shut-offs is the maximal distance possible in the house?

Of course one of the supplies was leaking. No matter how much I tightened it, it would still leak. And of course each leak check involved my walking a quarter mile to and fro those shut-off valves and the sink.

In desperation I decided to remove the offending supply line thinking I’d have to get a new one. Once I had the line removed I noticed that it was missing the black o-ring washer. It was still on the old faucet.

Place washer back where it belongs, re-install supply line, tighten everything up, walk the quarter mile back to the shut-off valve, and voila! Everything was fine. New faucet installed and working perfectly. 5 hours later. For what I thought would be a 3 hour job, tops.

What does any of this have to do with software?

Estimating. The actual time for me to complete the job was 66% over what I had estimated. And I’ve replaced faucets before! If this were an IT project it would have been deemed a failure.

What else would have happened had this been an IT project? We would have had status meetings whereupon we would discover we were falling behind schedule. And then the PM would ask what could be done to get us back on schedule? Do we need to bring in more staff? Hire an outside expert? Buy new tools? Explore new plumbing technologies?

No. We just need let alone to get the job done. We know what we’re doing. We’ve simply run into a snag. A snag you can’t predict beforehand and yet seems to always be there in every job you do. A snag I can’t desribe to you and you can’t comprehend, unless you’ve built software before. A snag defying any estimation of how long it will take to work through. And now we’ve reached the root of the problem.


About taylodl

I'm an enterprise architect/developer who enjoys programming, math, music, physics, martial arts and beer
This entry was posted in Development and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On Time Estimating

  1. joel klee says:

    good post. reminds me of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstadter%27s_law

    If it were an IT project I’m sure someone in management would consider offshoring the plumbing project. “Wouldn’t be cheaper to have someone fix the plumbing via remote control from India?”

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