The classic book The Art of War by Sun Tzu is about strategy. Compiled over two thousand years ago, it still contains valuable lessons.

One part got me thinking in particular: how good you are as a leader in battle is determined by how good you are in estimating distance. In early battle, this was obviously an invaluable skill. The better you are at knowing when you’re going to arrive at a specific place, the more advantage you can take.

This might not be seen as the most important skill for a leader today, but I think it is undervalued. Especially with large software projects, we’re taught that “it is impossible to plan and estimate”, so we’re often trying to work around it. May I remind you that in history, people had to plan huge battles without real time connectivity and while people relied on wind and animals to move themselves forward. Highly unreliable things.

I’m not saying it is easy (even though we have all kinds of technology available that should make things better, I know first hand how many things can go wrong), but we can and should do better. A great leader is one that takes time to gather the information he needs to know, as precisely as possible, how long it is going to take to reach the position he wants to take. A great leader does not give up when his estimations are off, but he learns and takes this knowledge with him to the next instance. A great leader teaches his team to work on realistic estimations, because unrealistic estimations that are produced to keep everyone happy aren’t going to be helpful to anyone.