#NoEstimates is essentially a twitter hashtag, as I already mentioned in a previous post. In this post from late 2014, I tried to explain my point of view on both the #NoEstimates hashtag and the reasons why I think we should try as much as possible to find other ways than estimates in order to make decisions.
Today, I decided to stop using #NoEstimates as a hashtag, and the purpose of this post is basically to explain why.
The best I could find to summarize my thoughts right now is this tweet of mine :
#NoEstimates has been trolled to death, by both “them and us”, so much that the only visible discussion is still about the #
— Matthias Jouan (@mattjmattj) May 2, 2015
When I first heard of #NoEstimates, I was the leader of a small development team, using Kanban in quite a Lean fashion. The team was not really involved in estimating potential value or cost, or even effort; so that the only thing business was asking from us was delivery date estimations.
As I explained in “Indian Planning Poker”, we first tried to use effort estimates – the Agile way – to deduce delivery dates. That proved completely useless and a big waste of time. Since we were in a Lean state of mind, we decided to drop all those wasteful estimation stuff and use a simple rule : slice it until it is small enough to be “as usual”. This would be sufficient to enable statistical forecasting : not every work item would be the same size, but their size would follow a distribution that we could use.
In Kanban we want things to be as much business as usual as possible. The standard, Kanban, way to operate is to identify several classes of service, for example based on their cost of delay, and make sure we “modelize” their cycle time distribution. To be clear : the heuristics we use for determining cost of delay and slicing work items are definitely some kind of effort/risk/complexity/cost estimation.
My first blog on the #NoEstimates topic was a rant against standard Agile, velocity-driven estimation. There is something I don’t get with this story point, velocity thing, really. At that time I thought that #NoEstimates meant exactly “no fucking story point estimates, use data and statistics for fuck’s sake”. I was then – I still am – a pretty big fan of people like Pawel Brodzinski and Troy Magennis.
While I was stepping into the #NoEstimates world, I realized that some of the most important thought leaders behind the hashtag were sharing my views on budget-driven development, what I called post-agile. In fact I realized later that it was just “Agile” – not post-Agile. Anyway.
Product development became a main focus. Lean startup, story maps, impact maps, “job to be done” are the kind of stuff I got into. I really believe in product discovery and learning. My main thought here is : do not estimate outcome, try and learn. Learning might involve estimation though.
When I started tweeting with the #NoEstimates hashtag, I wanted to say something like “Hello! We don’t use effort estimates here. Come around, I’ll tell you how if you wish”, but that did not happen. What happened was that #NoEstimates was actually a minefield. I immediately had to answer things like “Give me a real example of a multi-billion project done without any kind of estimates”. Ouch. “Please reply to the 5 blog posts I wrote against #NoEstimates”. Hum…
I tried. I genuinely tried to answer, given my knowledge and experience. But it seems like I failed. I had pretty interesting conversations though.
But #NoEstimates comes with a huge load of emotions. Time passing, I noticed that most of the conversations around #NoEstimates were very superficial. I got involved in a couple of them myself. On the topic of #NoEstimates you can find conversations about linguistic, semantic, how to behave politely, etc. and all of this comes and comes again without any hope for improvement.
I really got frustrated and wrote an open letter to try and understand why #NoEstimates was that dangerous, why there was so much hatred, on so little details, in vain. I saw many people, including myself, try to explain that not all estimates are to be removed, that obviously we knew that we basically estimate all the time in our day-to-day life, in vain too. Neil Killick, who recently got involded in a pure semantic argument, also tried to sort this all out, in vain again.
The thing is that this hashtag is bad, too extreme maybe. I’ve seen it described as a tribe, with some revolutionary connotation. The truth is we should have settled the semantic discussions a long time ago. Instead :
— Matthias Jouan (@mattjmattj) 2 Mai 2015
If we want to move forward on this topic, I think we need to stop using the #NoEstimates hashtag. When I’ll come to twitter to talk about estimates, I won’t hashtag #NoEstimates anymore. Estimates are just a tool. There is always a bigger purpose and we should talk about it instead. Are we talking about #ReleasePlanning ? Is it #ProductDevelopment ?Estimates are a vehicle, not a target. Let’s move forward and talk about the real things.