Not Estimating in Agile projects | David Tzemach

Although it may seem controversial, not estimating at all is a valid option in the Agile environment. In fact, it is used in the 'Kanban' framework based on a queue of tasks. In Scrum, many teams embrace the no estimates approach, which works very well. In fact, for some people in the industry estimations are considered a pure waste of time as they take effort that does not add value to the customer.

Naturally, this is a very sensitive subject. Despite our inherent understanding of the challenges and lack of efficiency of estimation, I believe it’s an essential mechanism for managing projects.

Moreover, a look at the software industry reveals that the reason people resist this approach is the fear among managers. They believe that without estimating their project, they will not be able to monitor its progress and even worse, it will be either late in delivery or not delivered at all.

You can conduct this worthwhile experiment in your teams. It provides a new (advanced) approach for dealing with software projects. It reduces non-value processes and frees time for the team to deliver value.

It is important to understand that not estimating does not mean you are not managing your team. In fact, no estimates reflect the management approach of fully trusting the team to take honest commitments and deliver them on time.

If you are still not comfortable about it, that’s fine. However, if you have the courage to experiment with no estimates, then below are some insights I have gained:

  • Try to prevent context switching to maximize development flow.

  • No estimates does not mean you cannot calculate your velocity. Counting the finished backlog items will do the trick.

  • Although there is no actual estimation done for a user story, it should still be small enough so that it takes a maximum of 3-5 working days to complete (this includes all activities related to the acceptance criteria and the DoD of the specific story).

  • Do not use this approach if your team is new to the Agile environment, as mentioned earlier, it takes time for a team to build the infrastructure that allows them to use and succeed with this approach.

  • A no estimates approach will only work in a team which is fully committed, constantly collaborating and have the relevant experience in the technical aspects of the product.

  • When using the no estimates approach, it is important your team adopt the “swarming” method of handling the top prioritized stories first and work on them until completion.

  • Keep your agility all the way. If your team is experiencing issues and things are not working as you expected, do not push them to use this technique just because you think it best for them. If it does not work, just go in another direction and try it again in future sprints.