The Scotty Principle

I always use the Scotty Principle. Most everyone does, be they computer nerds, authors, or building contractors. The simple truth is there will always be cost overruns. And as we all know, Time is Money (and girls are evil). The Urban Dictionary defines The Scotty Principle as:

The defacto gold star standard for delivering products and/or services within a projected timeframe. Derived from the original Star Trek series wherein Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott consistently made the seemingly impossible happen just in time to save the crew of the Enterprise from disaster.

The premise is simple:

1) Caluculate average required time for completion of given task.
2) Depending on importance of task, add 25-50% additional time to original estimate.
3) Report and commit to inflated time estimate with superiors, clients, etc.
4) Under optimal conditions the task is completed closer to the original time estimate vs. the inflated delivery time expected by those waiting.

There are, of course, corollaries associated with it, like the use of techno-babble. See, Scotty always had excuses to why things would take a long time. “I have to re-calculate the deterioration of dilithium, since we’re using it an accelerated rate due to the ion storm.” This isn’t just a factor of Star Trek, mind you. Where Scotty would say “Someone has to go into the Jeffries Tube!” Doctor Who would say “I have to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

So here are my Scotty School Rules for Support.

1) Always pad your time estimates. (“Well. I can PROBABLY do it in a week.”)
2) Always use big words. (“Just because we violated proper procedure doesn’t abrogate your need to follow it.”)
3) Always use buzz words. (“Actually, SEO will be adversely impacted by FrontPage due to it’s lack of support of Web 3.0 and HTML5.”)
4) Always be honest. (“No, it’s not complicated, it’s just time consuming.”)
5) Always say you can do it. (“Rebuild the entire program in a language I’ve never heard of? Sure.”)
6) Always do it the right way. (“You want me to use FrontPage to build a website? No.”)
7) If they make you do it the wrong way, pad your estimate to allow you a chance to do it BOTH ways. (“Yeah, I did the blog on FrontPage, but it looks weird, so I mocked it up on WordPress.”)

What are your rules?

7 responses

  1. Great rules to follow … unfortunately it took me a year’s worth of consulting to realize just how important padding a time estimate was. It came to me as I ducked out of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner one year so I could finish a project on-schedule that I was doing things wrong.

    But this does bring to mind my favorite interchange from the Star Trek series – between Scotty and Geordi La Forge …

    La Forge: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
    Scotty: How long will it really take?
    La Forge: An hour!
    Scotty: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
    La Forge: Well, of course I did.
    Scotty: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

    Following The Scotty Principle is definitely the secret sauce for many successful consultants.

    1. That is EXACTLY what I was thinking when I wrote this ๐Ÿ™‚ If you look on the front page of the site, that’s the custom crafted excerpt ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. I live by two basic rules,

    if I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do it. That’s why I own my business instead of working for someone.

    like unto the first, if it is bad for your site I don’t want to do it.

    Within this I probably apply the scotty principle, though not as much as I should.

    1. Even working for other people, you can decide ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ You just have to phrase it a little differently ๐Ÿ˜‰ Usually I find couching it in terms that explain WHY it’s bad to do it does the trick. ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

    2. I agree, I tend to fall back on SEO when explaining that to my clients.

      You want a full flash site? Yes I can do that but you need to understand that webcrawlers simply cannot “see” flash, so you will have to rely on non traditional traffic instead of generating good page rank by traditional means. Simply put, flash is bad for SEO.

      Most clients are very interested in a non flash solution after that.

  3. Hah. I got burned on this stuff a lot. Me? I’d have booted Scotty’s arse out the nearest airlock and got me Vulcan engineer. That would have been efficient. Fibbing on estimates is a cardinal sin in project management. It wastes time and resources and interferes with management’s ability to efficiently use it’s other resources to keep the boat afloat.

    But so many management personnel also use the Scotty Principle that they automatically assume everyone does and deeply distrust anyone who doesn’t.

    To fight this stuff I’d carefully prepare an honest and accurate set of Gantt/Pert charts for all my projects, showing the primary and secondary critical paths, including personnel vacation times, equipment recal and maintenance times, etc. Then when upper management would put pressure on to speed things up, I’d point to the chart and ask which project do you want to delay? (See, I almost never had a single project, it was usually five to ten going at the same time. Trying to manage product development projects with tasks split between countries turned out to be impossible, mostly due to politics.) They didn’t like that. A bit. Anytime someone would interfere with the tasks/resources I’d fire off a new chart showing the impact and present that at the next staff meeting, naming names and offering other ways the interloper could have handled his needs.

    My hope was to get the other managers to use the same techniques for their projects. That’s when I encountered the politics behind the Scotty Principle. They were counting on trading off their excess estimates for bigger budgets, more travel perks, etc.

    I got along fine with the accounting department, they liked how I made their cash flow problems less by having my costs occur on schedule and within the budgeted amount.

    When upper management didn’t appreciate this, I wondered why and found that they liked having that Scotty wiggle room ‘to save the day’ when they went to board meetings. That was more important than the bottom line.

    1. If I was Scotty, all of Kirk’s unreasonable demands would have had me packing and working for a Vulcan! Think about it, you’re exploring space and your boss says ‘Oh yeah, we need to do this amazing thing no one’s ever done before and we need to do it in 10 minutes.’ I might have brained him with a spanner.

      The Scotty Principle is basically a retaliation to people who have a schedule and you will meet it no matter what. People who think having more meetings to discuss why we’re not productive will increase productivity. You know those people? THAT is why we have to do this. Otherwise we never get anything done.

      If ‘managers’ were reasonable, we’d never need this.

%d bloggers like this: