What does it mean for an estimate to be right?

What does it mean for an estimate to be right? Does that mean that later actuals had the same numerical value? That the project length, or cost, or end date was the same as the estimate? Is it an indication of the “correct length of the project,” whether or not the project is done in that time? Or is there some better definition of “correct estimate” that we can use? Read More

Tracking velocity

It’s very common for organizations to track the velocity of the Agile teams over time. This is quite a reasonable datapoint to plot. Combined with other data, it might give you some insights when you look back, and insights based on data are typically more useful than insights based on opinion. Remember, though, to keep in mind what the data is, and what it is not. Read More

How easy is it for your programmers to fix problems?

A programmer, writing some new code, looks into some existing code that she needs to use. Something doesn’t look quite right. In fact, there’s a bug. Whether no one’s triggered it, or they have but their complaints haven’t reached anyone who will do something about it, is hard to say. Can she fix this code now and keep working? Or does something prevent that?

In such a situation, I would prefer to write a new test illustrating the bug, fix it, and check both the test and the fix into source control. This might take five minutes or an hour. It’s a small detour, but I feel better knowing that the code is now safer for the future.

Maybe, however, there are policies, either explicit or tacit, that prevent such quick resolution. Read More

Long-Range Planning with User Stories

I frequently hear or read people suggesting using User Stories for relatively long-range planning. Sometimes they mean something as short as a release in a few months. Sometimes they’re talking about multiple releases over a year or two. In all of these cases, they’re talking about breaking down the work to be done into small slices so that they can better measure it’s perceived size for predicting the future.

What are the implications for doing this? Read More

Best Practices

A colleague’s statement, “In fact my tip is NEVER do a MoSCoW prioritisation,” caught my eye. “The implied fixing of scope makes change very difficult. Order things instead.” That bold NEVER waves a red flag. The following exhortation to order the things to do is also troubling to me.

I don’t know what prompted the statement. I can certainly envision situations where I think the advice to order requirements or backlog items, rather than prioritize them in buckets, makes very good sense. There are other situations where MoSCoW prioritization (“Must have,” “Should have,” “Could have,” & “Won’t have) is good enough, and situations where linear ordering is inadequate. Let’s look at it more closely… Read More

Accomplishing Organizational Transformation

Scaling Agile across the Enterprise attracts a lot of attention these days. There are a number of models suggesting ways to organize Agile development inside a sizable organization with a lot of teams. I suspect that all of these models share the same basic flaw—that you can do something the same way across a large enterprise. Even if your policy manual says exactly how to do something, people are people and there will be variations in understanding and execution. And how does a team self-organize in a prescribed manner?

Beyond that, there’s the problem of getting from current state to a future state that resembles the model. It does not work to “install” a new way of working across a large system composed of people and their interactions. Some people suggest starting the transformation with management, as that’s the “highest leverage point” and the “system’s major influencers.” Others suggest starting with the teams, because without competence at building reliable software (or other systems) in short cycles of small steps, you’re not going to get the benefits of Agile Software Development. I don’t think that either of these starting points work.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” — John Muir Read More

What is the Right Length for a Project?

I’ve seen many comments on the topic of estimation in the past year, and I’m starting to notice some trends and assumptions in them. One of the common assumptions is that, given a particular team and amount of resources, there is a correct length to a project. A twin to this one is that there is a correct estimate that contains the same end date as the subsequent actual project performance. Read More