Increasing Predictability with Agile Estimates

Perhaps one of the most hotly talked about topics with Agile is that of estimation. It can be used to drive a wedge between good natured people hoping to accomplish the same outcome or bring them together as they agree on sizing of backlog items to be worked on. Whatever happens, there are sure to be fireworks at some point in the process of estimation either from management, product or the team. The key is to make sure that certain basic practices are followed to ensure the best possible outcome when estimates are used to gauge our predictability for delivery. Let’s explore some ideas together.

Preliminary Estimate by Product Owner

Before even getting to the team level estimate, it is important for the Product Owner to have an idea of what they believe the size of the backlog item is going to be. This effort when done right also involves technical input from someone such as a Technical Analyst to help the Product Owner get an idea as to whether something is smaller or larger than other backlog items previously worked on by the team. This effort of having the Product Owner and Technical Analyst is called out specifically in “The Art of Agile Estimating and Forecasting” and can really help a Product Owner know roughly what to expect going into a discussion with their Agile Team. I always say that when you focus on the basics, Agile is really easy. When discussing the 3 C’s (Card, Conversation and Confirmation), that Conversation then becomes the baseline of understanding context for the backlog items between team and Product Owner. At that point, the common understanding thread of the open discussion between parties can help to make the estimates reliable as a forecasting tool.

The biggest value in estimating isn’t the estimate but to check if there is common understanding.