09 September 2014

Say Why to Estimates

Agile estimation surfaces a clash of cultures. Broadly speaking the Agile community consists of makers & managers.

The clash between makers & managers distills to motivation:
  • Why & What —motivates makers
  • When & How Much —motivates managers
Makers make. Managers manage.

Estimates are a wild-assed-guess at How Much. A quote is exactly How Much.

If you suggest to a manager that there is a distinct and important difference between an estimate and a quote, she won't get it. Still, I prefer a gentle reminder — particularly with newly forming teams. If nothing else, such a reminder has the potential to lead to a better understanding of the Terms & Conditions between managers and makers.
Reminder: There's a difference between an estimate and a quote.
Because of the cognitive disconnect managers have about estimates, few seasoned makers take estimates seriously.

Some makers will sandbag an estimate by suggesting an inflated number. Other makers will confidently declare a random number, for example,
Just say three.
"Just say three" is my estimation mantra. Just say three is an artifact of the absurd notion that some tracking tool needs a number attached to a story. Makers, as they're eager to get back to the joy of making, will use "Just say three" to fulfill the immediate desires of the tracking tool jockey.

I suggest managers consider the necessity of the prevailing agile estimation pattern. Estimates, when so frequently treated as quotes, extract a cost in maker trust & product quality.
Say Why to Estimates.
Every team should attempt the Why conversations about process artifacts like estimates. Estimation is not a sacred cow.