I have found it useful to break technical problems into Easy, Medium, and Hard defined like this

  • Easy - We know which code will need to change and the code to change is very isolated and does not impact other parts of the system or we are only adding new code
  • Medium - We have a pretty good idea what to do, but we're not certain of the ramifications or know that we are changing some existing functionality.
  • Hard - We have some theories about how it might work, but lots of uncertainty. We will need to either build a prototype, or spike a solution to learn more. At this point just consider whatever you're talking about as R&D

This works when you're trying to decide whether to commit to something or just trying to get an idea of how risky a project might be.

If you have a bunch of easy things you can be reasonably confident about estimates and likely depending on your code speed delivery with more people.

With medium things I expect the development work to be reasonably easy to define, but know that extra time will need to be given to regression and system testing. Sometimes more work will come out of that, or you might encounter something that causes you to need to backpedal on the feature.

Hard is hard. You need to do more work to turn hard into a medium or easy.