This will be a short recap of the Agile Dialogs unconference held yesterday. We discussed ways of predicting value production with and without estimates. Over the next few days I’ll blog more of what we uncovered, but this will be a simple post on how the unconference was approached.

We had a good mix of people that were passionate, though no one was at I’d say fully at each end of the spectrum. The big takeaway was that both sides are right in many ways and wrong in many ways. The idea of not using estimates of time, money, and/or story points can be done and is highly context dependent. As with any approach it may nor may not work in your context; it depends, or YMMV. The best you can do is try it as an experiment and see whether it works for you.

What we did at Agile Dialogs was –

- register with one side or another along a continuum (how strong we felt on the issue),
- post the types of things we estimate,
- tell our stories of both our successes and failures on both sides – with and without estimates
- explore our objectives for either using or not using objectives and the techniques we use for each side
- Explore the assumptions used when using estimates
- Explore the assumptions used when not using estimates
- Explore what each side could learn from the other
- Posted and voted on what could possibly be the next thorny topic we tackle
- and retrospect on how the Agile Dialogs unconference could be better

Here’s a few teasers of some of the discoveries… I’ll go more in depth on what was discussed in future posts as well as post some proceedings on the Agile Dialogs site.

- When management or customers are asking for estimates, it is more important to understand their need for it; then more valuable alternatives to fulfill that need may be explored. Estimates may prove best for fulfilling that need though, so don’t force fit an alternative technique.
- Estimation has become a scapegoat for other dysfunctions within the works system. Removing estimation won’t fix these dysfunctions, but it may help uncover them. Whether at the end of the day, you remain with or without estimation, if these more fundamental dysfunctions can be fixed, then the work climate will improve.
- Estimation always exists, but when pursuing a noestimates approach, the nature of the estimation actually changes from cost, time, and/or complexity to value (which is not based on those in most environments).
- Focusing on understanding time and money estimates tends to introduce longer feedback loops for actual learning. If it is possible (and that is an IF), then removing them can eliminate waste in the work system to that learning.
- Measurement is important in both approaches; when doing estimates we sometimes get lulled into a false sense of security that good measurement exists, when often it doesn’t.
- Humans suck at estimation except on conceptually obvious items (obvious equating to the obvious domain in the Cynefin framework); mathematical models (particularly when the underlying assumptions on those models are validated by the team doing the work) can really help produce accurate results in the complicated domain. The complex domain can be assisted greatly by these mathematical models, but the loop through is validating a hypothesis.
- Another way to test a hypothesis is to set time or cost box and see if the solution at the end of the box is on track decide whether to spend more, accept as-is, or abandon; think Lean Start-up approach.

I have set-up The #AgileDialogs Daily that curates information from both sides of this thorny topic; other thorny topics will get added as a discussion on them emerges.

From my experience, there can be problems estimating even obvious (Cynefin obvious) work because of our tendency to ignore unanticipated difficulties. Consider, for example, how much longer lawn mowing might take if at the beginning the mower runs out of gas.

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