Saturday, March 13, 2021

Swenson's Law

The other day we were going through agile training, and one of my colleagues was struggling with the concept of assigning unit-less numbers to work effort / difficulty instead of hours or a 1-10 rating.

I tried to convey that when we estimate tasks in hours or dollars it is often very wrong anyway, and gave a couple of examples. 

Let's say you estimate $10,000 for a project. On day one, you find out that the software you expected to be available is not, and you have to pay $2,000, immediately. So now your estimate is off by $2,000, immediately.

Instead of estimating the project with a specific dollar amount and being immediately wrong, the agile approach encourages figuring out the meaning of work effort through experience, by assigning somewhat random values to projects and reflecting on that estimate, ideally, improving your ability to estimate tasks in your own terms.

This led me back to an earlier realization I had while doing home projects:

Swenson's Law: It's never just "one thing".

Let's say you want to wash the exterior of your spouse's car. You go to pull it out of the garage / parking space and realize that it's filthy inside. It really needs to be cleaned inside, too. So you go to get the vacuum cleaner, but you find out that has a broken part. So you go to order the replacement part online, but you get an email from your tax accountant noting a missing document. So you go to scan the document and send it. 

If this were a joke:

Spouse: I thought you were going to wash my car!

Me, sitting at a computer: I am dammit!!!

I originally wrote a note about this back in 2015, before my daughter was born, but forgot to publish it:

I went into the kitchen to throw away a tissue. I noticed the trash was full. I thought: "Oh, I'll just take out the garbage." However, I then noticed that the top of the trash can was rather dirty, so I went to get a wet paper towel to clean it off. I turned to find that the paper towels were out.

So then I went downstairs to get some more paper towels. I remembered that we had laundry to put away, and that later today, when we usually do laundry, we would be out to the hospital for a tour. We had to do laundry earlier, likely about right now.

I got the paper towels, came back upstairs, cleaned the trash can, and while I was taking out the trash, noticed the recycling bin was also full. So that had to be taken care of, too.

This situation, along with many others (e.g., fixing anything in the house; replacing a light switch ended up taking half a day), resulted in a conclusion: It's never just "one thing".