When I recently posted a tweet that said I’ve become a believer in #noestimates, I received more than a few confused and surprised responses privately from friends and colleagues. Rest assured, my fellow PMPs, that I have not recently suffered from a project management lobotomy. I was not abducted by agile aliens (though not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind if David Duchovny showed up at my door). I do still understand that this is business and we cannot just build in a vacuum. People with the money need answers to their questions.
My buy-in to the concept of #noestimates is based on the premise that if we are successful in improving how we work, estimates on user stories quite naturally fall away. If we understand our work and what the business goals are, and we are able to normalize that work over time, we can start to use probability rather than relying upon human-based subjectivity, i.e., story points.
So what does this really look like? In a nutshell:
Let’s say my team has the start date and end date for their historical user stories (cycle time). We can use the cycle times to generate throughput for each sprint (or other time increment), showing us how many stories the team delivers within that time increment. If we continue to gather this data over time, it becomes possible to understand what is realistic for the team to deliver within a larger given time increment. The user stories do not need to be the identical size for this exercise, because we are examining story throughput over time. Average story throughput can be used to provide a forecast, to illustrate based upon real data why a feature (that has been broken down into user stories) will or will not fit into a given time period.
Using the throughput of stories rather than story points (velocity) is logically a more accurate method of forecasting because it does not rely on the subjective human element. Story points are based upon opinion. Start time and end time of a story is not.
Once I had that revelation, it all clicked: I am a believer in #noestimates – not because I don’t think we should be responsible for providing some kind of forecast to our stakeholders, not because I don’t think we should commit and hold ourselves accountable to our commitments, but because the need to estimate stories is naturally eliminated when we rely upon throughput, and throughput is non-subjective.
In closing: #noestimates is not synonymous with no forecasting, and we Agilists should always be open to looking at new ways to improve how we work.