The classic definition of optimists versus pessimists does not entirely match the real world when considering workload planning. In the real world the time horizon plays a huge impact on outlook.
The more time you potentially have to get something done, the more likely you are to be optimistic about getting it done. I see it all the time both inside software development teams and in other areas of business.
I highly suspect that future optimists operate on intuition rather than real project or time management principles. Intuition does not help overly much in complex longer term workload planning. This is why many people over commit in the longer term and then struggle to meet obligations. Personally, I think most people are future optimists in some way.
These are the people that are hard core optimists. Even over the short-term with the walls crumbling around them, they are optimistic that with a little extra effort they can pull themselves out of the rubble and get all the work done. It often does not work out or requires heroic effort.
Fortunately, this group is relatively small. For most people the combination of experience and intuition works fairly well over the shorter term. For the exceptions, a strong peer group or manager may need to get involved to keep them realistic; or deadlines or quality will suffer.
Realists – The Planners
This group is really small and consists of the people who will look at their calendars, their existing workload and the anticipated effort required by the new task before making a commitment no matter what the timeline. Things can still go wrong but these people are also likely to not procrastinate so you will also know well in advance of the deadline if problems are encountered.
Future realists are rare. Hopefully, your project managers are in this category.
Short-term realists differ from short-term optimists only in that they use planning processes instead of intuition before they commit.
The pessimists use intuition the same way as optimists except their intuition is negative. There are also short and long-term pessimists.
Getting the Most From the Team
Most people seem to use experience and intuition to perform workload planning, especially when pressed for time or under management or peer pressure.
Whether you are doing software development, planning a project or running a business consider the following:
- Rely on team/individual estimates for relatively small (less than a week) task estimates, break larger tasks up.
- Use short iterations for workload planning. This takes the overall workload planning exercise for self-directed teams down to a level where intuition and experience are effective.
- Get a good system or tools in place to handle aggregating all the rough estimates for longer term estimates.
- Rely on your project managers to handle workload planning (using your tools) and tracking for longer time periods. This frees up your project teams to focus on their work rather than workload planning.
After all the glass is half-full and you can always get more, right?