Estimation sucks and I didn't even mean it.

A gazillion things have been written in the past about estimation. We all know that we all suck at it. We all want to get better at it. We all think we know how we can be better. I’m probably not going to teach you anything here, I’m just writing about how I’ve once again had my arse kicked by underestimating how much work something will take.

Most of the time I actually think about estimation is during my work. It is important to have accurate estimation if you use the estimates to bill your customers. In most my cases (when I’m employed), it’s my employer who’s my customer and I decide on their behalf how much time I’m justified to spend on a task and generally try not to fall into the automation trap. Sometimes you make an estimate without even recognising it. When that happens, you have no chance to consider the ramifications. I’m about to describe one of those cases.

I decided that I wanted to ship some stuff between the Netherlands and Australia. It seemed like it should be simple enough. I found a company that was happy to take my things for a fair price. In my head the process would go something like this:


In the most basic sense, I was right. All of those things that I expected to happen did in fact happen. Where it went bad was in all the things that I didn’t consider or had little or no way in knowing about without first hand experience. I can’t blame myself too much for not knowing the details of some of the processes, but I really should have spent more time reading the documentation that I was sent and making sure that I was doing things the right way before I started. Too many things I ended up doing twice or going the long way around only through carelessness.

The first mistake that I should clarify is that there wasn’t a single company that handled the process from start to finish, it was distributed between three.

  • Shipping Company: Those who I dealt with in The Netherlands. They arranged to pick up the boxes from my house, get them to the wharf, then onto the boat.
  • Receiving Company: Those who were arranged by the shipping company. Their duty was to provide me with all the required information and paperwork involved to get my goods once they arrived in Australia.
  • Holding Company: Those who had physical possession of my goods.

This is what really happened. The left-most column is what I expected I’d need to do. The other columns were all the deviations from my expectation.

What really happened

I didn’t have the experience to make an educated estimate, yet I made a judgement on what to expect anyway. I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with making an estimate on a task that you aren’t experienced in but you shouldn’t place much confidence in your estimate.

I was frustrated, stressed and annoyed that the job of getting my things was so difficult. I was all too aware that if I took longer than five days, it would start costing a lot of money very fast, something like AU$100 per day. I also knew it was too late to give up and abandon my things.

To make things easier on myself, next time (if there is a next time) I will not attempt to ship random bits and pieces. If I had limited myself to what I originally wanted to bring back; my records, guitar and tools, the entire process would have been made so much easier. The packing and the lists would have taken a fraction of the time. I would probably have not had any issues getting through customs. I should have also spent more time reading all the documentation before I began.

Once finished, the total cost of shipping my things was AU$1,093.30 (€763.91) and the total distance of back and forth running around was 675KM.

UPDATE: Hello Hacker News. :)