How to Move Beyond Project Estimates and Provide Better Value

If software development teams can take the time they spend estimating how long a project will take and start to execute that project instead, they can go that much faster. But what does a world without estimates look like -- and what might it mean for the business?

By Matthew Heusser
Mon, September 09, 2013

CIO — The buzz in the room at Agile2013 Nashville is "no estimates" — the idea of dropping estimates entirely from the software development process.

Matt Barcomb, co-chair of the "Open Jam" stage, a management consultant and now vice president of product development at Taxware, suggests that we offer a session to explore the topic and reassemble the Council of Elders. We've gathered an impressive group:

NoEstimates Discussion at Agile2013
Clockwise from far left: Diane Zajac-Woodie, Anand Bagmar (a principal consultant and quality analyst at ThoughtWorks), Adrian Howard, Woody Zuill, Markus Gärtner, Michael "Doc" Norton, Matt Barcomb, Steve Rogalsky, Matthew Heusser, Brian Bayer, Troy Magennis and Mark Ballstaedt discuss the "no estimates" software development concept at Agile2013.

Typical Software Estimation Little More Than Guesswork If you're trapped in an elevator with an executive who asks what #NoEstimates means, what do you say?

Woody Zuill, the man behind the #NoEstimates hashtag: #NoEstimates is essentially a way to make decisions that don't use estimates.

Markus Gärtner, author of Acceptance Test Driven Development by Example and a speaker at the conference: Why would I do that?

Zuill: Why would you do estimates?

Diane Zajac-Woodie, business analyst with Erie Insurance: Every time I hear this conversation, I'm reminded of my personal life. I don't buy a product unless I know what the purchase will cost.

Zuill: That's my starting point for most people. It works well in that example, but we assume that works for software development. Why do we make that assumption? (By the way, I got my brakes fixed a few months ago: $300 was the estimate, $900 was the out-of-pocket bill.)

Zajac-Woodie: Nobody guarantees anything. It's an estimate, not a guess.

Zuill: Why do we do that in software development?

Barcomb: So we can execute to a schedule! (Laughs.)

Zuill: Why execute to a schedule?

Steve Rogalsky, who's speaking at Agile2013 about story mapping: Some people think, if you don't have a detailed plan, with estimates, then you can't prove that you're working hard. It's accountability. I'm not saying that it's a good form. It's just one argument I've heard.

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