#NoEstimates  . . .Yes or No?

#NoEstimates . . .Yes or No?


Hand Drawn Chart Saturday!

When I published An Estimation Framework Is Required In Complex Environments, several people that I respect, including Luis Gonçalves (interviewed on the SPaMCAST 282 with Ben Linders), begged to differ with my conclusion that a framework was ever required.  Luis made an impassioned plea for #NoEstimates.  The premise of #NoEstimates is that estimates enforce a plan and plans many times are overcome by changes that range across both technology and business needs.

Vasco Duarte, a leading proponent of #NoEstimate describes the process as follows:

  1. Select the highest value piece of work the team needs to do.
  2. Break that piece of work down into small components.  Vasco uses the term risk-neutral chunks, which means pieces of work that if they don’t get delivered in the first attempt will not put the project at risk.
  3. Develop each piece of work according to the definition of done. #NoEstimates makes a strong case that unless done means anything other than usable by the end customers, the project is not getting the feedback needed to avoid negative surprises.
  4. Iterate and refactor. Continue until the product or enhancement meets the organization’s definition of done.

Estimates are part of a continuum that begins with budgeting, continues to estimating and terminates at planning.   Organizations build strategic plans based on bringing new or enhanced products to market.  For example, a retailer might commit to opening x number of stores in the next year.  If public, once publicly stated, the organization will need to perform to those commitments or face a wide range of consequences.  Based on experience gathered by working in several retailer’s IT organizations, I know that even a single store is a major effort that includes store operations, purchasing, legal and IT.  Missing an opening date causes embarrassment and typically, large financial penalties (paying workers who aren’t working, rescheduling advertising and possible tax penalties not to mention the impact to stock prices).  Organizations need to budget and estimate at a strategic level.

Where the #NoEstimates approach makes sense is at the planning level.  The #NoEstimates process empowers teams (product owner, Scrum Master/coach and development personnel) to work on the highest value work first and to develop a predictable capacity to deliver work.  The results generated by the team provide feedback to evaluate the promises made though organization-level budgets and estimates.

When performance is at odds with what has been promised business choices should be made.  Choices can range from involving other teams (when this makes sense) to accepting the implications of not meeting the commitments made by the organization.

Does #NoEstimates make sense?  Yes, the process and concepts embodied by #NoEstimates fits solidly into a framework of budgeting, estimating and planning.   Without a framework to codify the use of #NoEstimates and to govern organizational behavior, getting to the point of making hard business choices will generate pressure to fall back to command and control fashion.

Note:  I am working on scheduling an interview and discussion with Luis and Vasco on the Software Process and Measurement Cast to discuss #NoEstimates.