Monday, December 28, 2015

Do We Really Need Estimates?

agile-iconOkay, so you’ve read anything I wrote before, you probably know by now, that I am a strong proponent of Agile methodologies. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

Estimates Are Wasteful

waste-clipart-trashcancIt doesn’t matter if it was a friendly debate with a manager, discussion with a client, heckling from someone in the audience of a presentation, but pretty much every time that I bring up this point, I get asked some variation of the following question:

Thousands of companies and organizations have been managing by estimates for decades. Do you think that you are smarter than the owners and managers of everyone of them?!?

I must admit, that question ruffles my feathers every time I hear it. Mostly because, that’s a direct attack on me, not my ideas, and a part of me wants to lash out back at them, or just glibly reply in the affirmative. I don’t. Discretion is the better part of valor, after all…

Today I just thought of a real good answer. Perhaps still a bit on the glib side, but at least not disrespectful or boastful.

Am I Smarter Than Pro-Estimate Managers?

brainyThis is going to be my new go-to answer. Feel free to use it. Feel free to quote me:

I think that I have more knowledge, better tooling, and have learned from more failures, than whoever originally came up with the idea to estimate. And I have no basis to compare myself with those who simply estimate because that is what everybody else is/was doing.

What Do You Think?

TrollfaceStill too glib? Too arrogant? Just right?

Let me know in the comments.


  1. I think it is a question of addressing the purpose those see for estimates. If they just quote lots of people do it, so we should then your answer is fine in my opinion.

    If they say they need some way of deciding if doing that work is wise or something that is going to be so difficult that it isn't worth it then a different answer is needed. If they talk about scheduling then other explanations make sense to me - talking about the issues with fixed estimates etc. but giving them alternatives of fixed schedule with variable features (if there is a business need to deliver on some date)., etc.

    1. Hi John,

      I do believe that the need for estimates comes from a valid concern. My problem with estimates is that they are the wrong answer for the question. Estimates, like any other attempt at divining the future, is based on a deep-rooted fear of the unknown, and numbers - any numbers, give a sense of security. However, it is a FALSE sense of security, because we simply don't know.

      The better approach, is rather than lie to ourselves (and our managers, and clients, and stock holders) about how volatile our guesses are, and hope for a positive outcome of an all-or-nothing bet, we should shift our efforts to making the best with what we have: deliver the most important functionality, as early as possible, and have the best possible product when the deadline comes. More often than not, it will be good enough.

      In any case, this post was more of a rant-turned-come-back for smug know-it-all middle (pointy-haired) management, using ridicule to shoot win an argument.



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