Sunday, 29 March 2015

The #Yestimates hashtag

I didn't invent this hashtag, I heard it in a twitter conversation some time ago. I'm dishonestly stealing the name. Let me state how I look at it. This is just a draft, I might change it later on, but it's a start at least. I think of this hashtag as the more "positive" version of #NoEstimates. I guess they mean the same thing actually, but I feel we need a more "positive" version of it. By "positive" I mean that #NoEstimates can be positive as well, just that some (including myself) might see it as a bit like saying "no", and to me that sounds a bit "negative", but that's just an opinion.

Here it goes:

"Yes, we do estimates! We see it as a way to help our customers make decisions in their hard and difficult situation where they have to make those tough decisions.
Yes, we do everything we can to be transparent and keep an honest conversation and we try to help our customers do the same thing for us.
Yes, we'd like to help them communicate their expectations (or constraints) and we will communicate how we look at things as well.
Yes, we'd like to help them discover where there might be (even more?) value.
Yes, we'd like to help them discover the value by doing the least effort possible.
Yes, we'd like to help them validate their hypotheses.
Yes, we'd like to help them make as quick decision as possible, since delaying value also has a cost.
This way we try to fight all possible dysfunctions that seem so common in the name of estimates."

Some words about decisions

I think a definition is appropriate here. A definition of what we mean by "making a decision".
This is how I define that:
Making a decision means choosing among choices. Each choice have a benefit and a cost. It doesn't have to be a clear monetary benefit, but hopefully it is. Cost is usually always clear monetary in the end. Deciding means "weighing" the available choices and picking one or more of them, or none. In other words "weighing" the different benefits and costs among the choices. That "weighing" is in itself a form of estimating.

That's basically it. Please feel free to help by suggesting improvements/changes or if things needs clarification.

Not estimating can also be problematic

Let me start by saying that I'm all for trying things. Try. Evaluate. Learn. When you've read this post you'll forget I have said this, maybe because I'm contradicting myself. I don't know.

Anyway, I'll tell you a story. I once worked as a software developer at a product company. We developed a hardware firewall/ADSL-modem. I didn't work as a consultant/contractor back then. It was a small company, like 20 people. Around 5-7 software developers working on the product.

Anyway, I almost never estimated the work I was planned to do. It was like "We really need to get this next thing done, please make sure it gets done" (not exactly of course, and in a rather friendly tone, actually). I admit, it sometimes felt kind of nice back then. But it wasn't always good. Because there still were expectations (and that is kind of why my opinion is that "no estimates" doesn't really exist). And when things took a little bit longer than someone (somehow) expected, it felt even worse. Because I "didn't meet the expectations". And I was pretty junior back then. And also because I hadn't really had the chance to say or claim anything about what I thought the effort was. I would probably have felt bad even if I'd had the chance (or not, if my claim about the effort had been close to correct). But not estimating didn't help either.

I don't know if we really were doing #NoEstimates? Probably not (because there were estimates at some level in the end after all). But I did not estimate most of the work I did, so I guess it kind of counts..?

So, if someone is planning on letting go of estimates. I'd advice don't just try it. Make sure everyone is on board with that decision. Someone might actually not like that decision. I guess that's kind of obvious, though. And no one is saying that you shouldn't do that. It's just an advice, or perhaps something to think about at least.

I guess my point is that if "dysfunctions" isn't solved, letting go of estimates might perhaps solve some problems, but you might also create other ones. And also, if you don't estimate, someone else probably will (for you), and that might feel even worse (for some). So, I don't know, probably the entire organization needs to be on board with the decision? I don't really know, it's just my experience. Guess the goal is to always keep a close feedback loop, but I'm not sure that it will remove the "expectations" of "the next thing that really needs to get done"? Or perhaps the solution is to make sure everyone is on board with not having expectations of anything? Maybe the solution is to always say: "I will have something of value to show you tomorrow"? Will that somehow remove the expectations? Or maybe the solution is to say something like "Sit here and help me make sure it gets done". Is that possible? Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe something completely else?

Please try for yourself! I guess I'm a bit reluctant to try again myself though (coward!). But hey, times changes! :-)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Estimates, decisions, prioritization, inventories


In my personal life (or in any organization) ideas are like a flow of things. (This is nothing new for people who knows about lean etc). I see it like this:
I (or an organization for that matter) probably have a lot of ideas, or "things", of what I want to do. It's like I have an inventory of ideas/things. That's great. I hope? (I don't see anything bad with it at least).
The next step in the flow is the "materialization" of those ideas/things. Like: actually working on it, or doing some planning on what needs to be done.
And the final step is the outcome, or the idea/thing actually materialized.
That's basically how I view the flow of things in my life (and even how I see it in organizations as well).
Ideas/things comes at different sizes. I should switch tyres on my car, I should take it to service, I should put up new curtains at home, paint a room, remodel my kitchen, etc etc. One can easily correlate this with ideas/things in an organization (at probably all levels) as well.
But the thing is, I only have so much time to do all these things. Or I can't afford to "add resources" by hiring people who can help me.

Priorities, decisions

I don't need to dwell on this. I need to do these things, you need to do these things, organizations need to do this. We have limited resources/time, thus we need to make decisions, prioritize. And that's good, I'll get to that.
But let's say I need help because I'm not quite sure how to decide/prioritize. The value part is quite given, even though it might be hard to put numbers on them. But I'm not sure the effort of doing some things. I need help.
However someone gives me an idea of that effort/cost/whatever, if they judge, forecast, slice, whatever. I will treat it as an estimate. Because we can't know exactly, and unexpected things always happen.

Being reasonable

When unexpected things happen, I might question if those things wasn't possible to somehow foresee, or why not having some margin for such things. (Usually, in contracts, there are disclaimers for really unexpected things). But if there's a good reason for it, I'll buy that. That's not a big deal. "Shit happens", right? I'll somehow raise more money or stall everything. What can I do? Was it a bad decision? No. Why dwell on that? Let's do what we can right now, based on the information we now have. We made a decision based on the information we had at that moment. That's great! Be positive. I'm glad we at least started something. Now let's finish it. And learn til next time.
Would I have made another decision if I had knew? Maybe. Maybe not. But why dwell on that? It is what it is. Look ahead. Stay positive. And learn!


Hopefully some progress will be reported. So I know ahead of time how things are going. So I can steer and adjust and coordinate. Even with the other things I want to do. Best thing is to actually show me progress, not just tell me progress. If I get to see small pieces of value being delivered and ready, I might even start using some of them. I might actually say "Stop, I think that's enough" (who knows?). And if you show me progress I would probably stop asking for estimates during this materialization, I can obviously just look at the progress and see for myself we're on track or not.


Let's say I don't want to have an inventory of ideas, or that I want to drastically decrease it. I'd have to get more resources (or time, however that is done?) to get them done. That's fine. But you know what I think will happen? I will just have even more ideas. And we're back on square one. And that's great! It's called: growing.
Or I could just delete most, or all ideas. But that doesn't feel right.
Or I could start working on all ideas/things (and have all of them in the "materialization phase"). But then I'll probably never really finish any of them either... You know - limit WIP.

"Materialization phase"

When an idea/thing is in this "step/phase", I don't really care that much about other things than progress, as I've said earlier.
If the one I'm hiring doesn't feel it's valuable - in their process - to use estimates, that's fine. If they want to not do sprints or sprint planning or planning poker, story points, or if they want to slice or forecast or whatever, I really don't care that much. (Even though I might be interested in how they work). And this is probably where #NoEstimates have its place?
But as long as I, somehow, have an idea of how we're progressing and/or if it seems like we need to plan (or do) something differently, I'm happy.
When someone reports that progress, it's an estimate to me (because they can't possibly tell me it's fact. But if it is - great!). Thanks for those estimates! (Sorry if I've never said that, I should). I feel that's valuable to me.

Bottom line

I think this is kind of basic stuff.
Do I want to change how this works? I don't see any reasons.
Is it a smell of possible dysfunctions? I can't actually sniff any.
In fact I think it's part of living. Both personally and as an organization.

Love! Live! Fight! Learn!

And how do I look upon #NoEstimates?
It's about the dysfunctions associated with estimates. It's not about throwing babies out with the bathwater.
Could it have a better name? Hell, yeah! :-)
But it's like some kinds of "journalism", you have to make some drama to get attention to a topic. One can have lots of opinions of that. Mine is probably as good as yours :-)