Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

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Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby gd1 » Tue Jul 31, 2018 3:11 am UTC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A4VoPBt67M (at about 0:56)
Asks for 10 hours. Gets 2.

Why do captains do this? Is it actually a bad idea? This doesn't happen in real life does it? Is there an xkcd comic about this yet explaining why this is a bad idea?
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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby Thesh » Tue Jul 31, 2018 3:15 am UTC

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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby gd1 » Tue Jul 31, 2018 3:31 am UTC

I'd probably get removed from starfleet for this but:

"Captain, respectfully, I'm not like other engineers you may have heard of who inflate estimates on repairs. I could probably get it done in 2 hours if it were a life or death situation, but that's because the downside of this ship exploding from a mistake I made would be offset by the fact that we might die anyways."

or something to that effect...

NOTE: Admittedly my initial linked youtube is sort of that situation, but still.
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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby Thesh » Tue Jul 31, 2018 3:38 am UTC

I was actually looking for the clip of the TNG episode Relics when I found that. In that case, Geordi was telling Scotty pretty much exactly that.
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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby Soupspoon » Tue Jul 31, 2018 4:12 am UTC

http://projectmanagementhacks.com/project-management-skills/

(That may just look like a spam-link, but honestl that's got some of the relevant quotes in it, which'll help tie you in on Youtube Vids if you prefer.)

More obviously relevant, just from the URL: http://wiki.c2.com/?ScottyFactor - which also refers to the other side of the demand equation, at the end.

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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jul 31, 2018 2:53 pm UTC

There is, predictably, a tvtropes article about this:
https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ScottyTime
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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:36 pm UTC

gd1 wrote:
I'd probably get removed from starfleet for this but:

"Captain, respectfully, I'm not like other engineers you may have heard of who inflate estimates on repairs. I could probably get it done in 2 hours if it were a life or death situation, but that's because the downside of this ship exploding from a mistake I made would be offset by the fact that we might die anyways."

or something to that effect...


This actually happens in one of the early episodes of Voyager. B'elanna Torres establishes early to Janeway that "when she says she needs X hours, she means X hours, she doesn't exaggerate". Janeway's generally better at not pushing her to reach into Scoty Time than other Star Trek captains.

The basic reason though is that it's a cheap way to buy some dramatic tension
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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Aug 06, 2018 3:26 pm UTC

gd1 wrote:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A4VoPBt67M (at about 0:56)
Asks for 10 hours. Gets 2.

Why do captains do this? Is it actually a bad idea? This doesn't happen in real life does it? Is there an xkcd comic about this yet explaining why this is a bad idea?


It's a hollywoodism. Supposedly builds tension or what have you. As a similar but more widespread example, see how often main characters are given crap for being late. Happens all the time, when it doesn't affect the plot at all, just to tease some kind of adversarial relationship/challenge.

As a real world boss, if you attempt to treat all estimates as things to demand be ignored, you're probably an awful boss. Yeah, constraints can sometimes breed creativity, but ignoring the best estimates from those actually doing the work tends to result in overpromising to customers, deadlines getting pushed, and projects going south. It also burns trust, because clearly you aren't trusting their judgement, so in the future they're more likely to pad estimates so they'll get the time they need, and your information quality gets worse and worse. Some bosses do try this, because awful bosses definitely exist, but it's not a great practice.

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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Aug 07, 2018 12:10 am UTC

The plot reason is usually that there is no more time available. Essentially, at that point in the episode, the ship is usually under attack or getting sucked into a black hole or about to explode or something, so Scotty literally must fix the engine in the remaining time or die.

The plot reason for why it is even possible for him to consistently beat his own estimates so thoroughly is given above, and also in this clip that Thesh mentioned and I immediately wanted to link.

But the real reason the writers chose to add that (before it had simply become a recurring theme) was to emphasize that Scotty had a difficult job, since the technobabble they use to describe what he's doing doesn't tell the audience anything. How hard is it to modulate the transporter array or whatever? Apparently four-hours-hard for most engineers, but just one hour for Scotty when he's motivated.

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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby SuicideJunkie » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:05 pm UTC

Also like gd1 hinted at, if it takes X hours to do it right, but you've got x/4 hours before the ship gets a permanent space wedgie, then you've got to cut corners and take risks, and spend lives and unobtanium reserves to get it done now.

Fixing the technical debt incurred may take x*100 hours, X billion spesos and a redshirt recruitment drive, but you'll only have that if you're still alive.
(If you're in a movie, then the whole ship is probably a write-off, but you'll get a new one built for the sequel)

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Re: Why do starship captains say "you've got x/4 hours" when the engineers ask for x?

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Mon Aug 20, 2018 6:43 pm UTC

One possibility is that they engineer genuinely doesn't know, like if they've never done that specific thing before. In such a situation,it makes sense to overestimate, as underestimation is more likely to cause problems than overestimation. When the engineer asks for four hours, they're really making the claim that the task can be done in four hours or less; so the more time they ask for, the more likely they are to be correct.
gd1 wrote:I'd probably get removed from starfleet for this but:

"Captain, respectfully, I'm not like other engineers you may have heard of who inflate estimates on repairs. I could probably get it done in 2 hours if it were a life or death situation, but that's because the downside of this ship exploding from a mistake I made would be offset by the fact that we might die anyways."

or something to that effect...

NOTE: Admittedly my initial linked youtube is sort of that situation, but still.
I think a key thing to remember is that a regular episode is not a regular day of star-ship operations. (Arguably each series is a conglomeration of the stores every similar ship for that time period)

A lot of normally reasonable considerations are trivialized: Safety? we're under attack by the Borg. Project management? This is the critical path and important enough for the captain to personally reschedule everything the moment you are done. Reasonable work day? We're trying to stop a war.
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