Saturday, April 6, 2013

Moving to Agile: estimates and promises

In transitioning a legacy team to agile the issue of estimates vs promises and how engineers and management interprets them is acknowledged as key.  Management often asks engineers for estimates and then treats the answers as promises.   This leads to a whole set of problems which are documented in the agile literature.   I often think that communications difficulties can be helped by reversing a situation so lets try that here.

I wonder if we can help clarify the difference between estimates and promises by asking management for an estimate. “If my team gives you product X by date Y will you give us a specific level bonus?”. Any management I’ve seen will say they can’t promise a specific bonus in the future because there are too many free variables.

To which we say “exactly”.

If instead we say “we believe we have an 80% chance of hitting date Y with feature set Z” might we get them to say “there’s a 75% chance of getting a bonus of D dollars”?  As we got closer and closer to the target release date might we get them to reduce the uncertainly of our bonus level as we reduce the uncertainly of the feature set?

I don’t think most management would actually do this but it might help them see our estimates in a new light.