Friday, January 29, 2016

Estimate everything?

Mike Cohn on estimating (from his email blasts):

"Because I've written a book on estimating, people seem to think I estimate everything on my product backlog. I don't.

I ask a team to estimate a product backlog item only when having the estimate will lead to actionably different behavior. 

So, for example, I might ask a team for an estimate on a user story so that I can decide if I want that story soon or perhaps not at all. Or I might ask for an estimate so I can make a commitment to a client or partner. But I don’t ask a team to estimate just so I can later yell at them if they’re wrong. I don’t ask a team to estimate just so they feel pressure to meet that estimate.

To make this practical, I looked at the product backlogs for both Mountain Goat Software and Front Row Agile, two websites for which I’m the product owner. For Mountain Goat, only 13 out of 61 (21%) user stories have estimates. This is largely because I am close enough to the development work on that site that I have a very good feel for how long things there will take. For most items, there’s really nothing my team could tell me that would change how I prioritize that work.

Things are a little different right now on Front Row Agile. There we have 18 out of 48 (37%) user stories estimated. But, I’ve also asked the team on that site to estimate 12 of the unestimated stories, meaning 30 of 48 (62%) will be estimated. That’s a much higher percentage than normal. It has to do with some year-end planning and budgeting we’re doing.

Why not estimate everything? 
 Estimating can add a lot of value. It can lead to better decisions. 
For example, I’ll make a better 2016 budget with the estimates I’ve asked for than if I don’t get them. Right now, that’s important to me. But, if an estimate will not lead to an actionably different decision, time spent estimating is wasted. And none of us has enough time that we can afford to waste any if we want to help our teams succeed with agile"

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