A Dirty Word

When did ‘Estimate’ become a dirty word?  Think about it- in school, our kids are being taught in their various math courses, right this very moment, how to estimate in certain situations:

Estimate:  304 x 29

The kid will say, “about 9,000”, right?  Will you hold it against him if the actual answer isn’t 9,000?  (It’s 8,816- Fortunately, life isn’t ‘The Price is Right’, and if you are over, you just plain lose.)  The point is, and I hope you agree with me here, is that you don’t hold it against him, because he was told to estimate.

Fast forward that kid’s career 10 years, and he finds himself to be a jr. software developer for a respectable organization.  One day, while happily working on his committed tasks for the sprint, he gets a visitor at his desk.

“Hey Joe- remember that report we were talking about a few weeks back?”, asks the sly Product Manager.

“Sure, I remember- the one with the roll-ups by account type.”, says Joe.

“Yeah- How long do you think it would take for you to do that?”, the Product Manager asks.

Now Joe is surely stuck.  He’s new with the company, and has developed a relationship with the Product Manager (for better or for worse).  Joe offers up “6 hours”.   Satisfied, the Product Manager walks away.  Where do you think he’s going to be in another 6 work hours?  That’s right- at Joe’s desk, looking for that report.

I know what you are asking yourself- “How can that be?  He was asked for an estimate about a feature they discussed weeks ago.”  That’s because, somewhere along the path of projects and software, estimate became commitment.  We as contributors to development teams were no longer able to have an error percentage in our estimates, and the byproduct of that, was even worse.  Padding.  Doubling Estimates.  Sandbagging.  Playing it safe.  Getting ahead and not telling anyone.  It all happens.

And that my friends, is why we like to use a method, abstract of time, objective in nature, relative to other work, to measure our efforts.  Story Points.  That conversation from earlier looks a lot different if Joe’s response is “3 points”.  Undoubtedly, the Product Manager will attempt to clarify for a time scale, and this is where the Scrum Value: Courage, comes into play.  Stick to your guns Joe!  It’s 3 points!

I won’t go into the other bad behaviors around the Product Manager grabbing a junior developer for a side conversation around estimates today…

Set your phasers to Scrum!


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