My most recent article on projectmanagement.com is 3 Questions to Ask Before Estimating an Agile Program.
In both Create Your Successful Agile Project and Agile and Lean Program Management, I talk about the reality of estimates in most settings. The question is what kind of an estimate does your project or program need?
I'm not opposed to estimation. I need to provide estimates to my clients and myself. And, I find that to provide order-of-magnitude estimates for projects and programs, I need to ask some questions first.
Here's an example of why you might want to ask these questions. Imagine you are driving to two different places. One is within a half-mile of your origin. The other is across town, with traffic, several miles from your origin. If you could see value with the close destination and then not have to drive to the other destination, that would change your estimate. You also need to know the time of day to estimate the effects of traffic. And, that your driving time might change depending on the state of the roads.
We have similar problems at the start of agile projects and programs. At the beginning when the execs want an estimate, we have these problems:
- The feature sets are too undefined to estimate with enough accuracy. (Do we have the exact street addresses, or do we need to refine the address once we start?)
- We don't know how we might change the order of the features in the feature set or the order of the feature sets themselves. The order of the work might matter. (In my driving example, which location you drive to first matters.)
- We don't have the teams yet who will work on these features. Or, the teams don't know the state of the code and tests. (Is someone familiar with the main roads and back streets driving, or is it someone unfamiliar?)
We might have more unknowns.
That's why I like asking the questions in 3 Questions to Ask Before Estimating an Agile Program. I have found the questions prompt great discussions. The discussions help me frame risks I might need to manage as we proceed.