#NoEstimates isn’t just about estimating

The #NoEstimates conversation is largely about estimating nowadays rather than NOT estimating.

Estimating, but in a probabilistic way. People often refer to this type of estimating as forecasting. Using cycle time. Throughput. Variance. Little’s Law. Monte Carlo.

All famously good stuff.

But I don’t want people thinking that’s all there is to the conversation. Many folks have interpreted it that way.

For me, larger questions remain. For example, is it possible, in certain situations, to deliver value to the customer at a rate which negates the need for doing any estimating at all, both up front and ongoing? Quick enough that they do not need to make any decisions or commitments based on anticipated delivery, only what was actually delivered?

Beyond whether this is possible or not in certain contexts, why might it actually be important or desirable to be in this state of not needing estimates? I can get away with not eating apples, but is it actually useful for me to not eat apples?

Well, the fact that estimates are usually needed implies that decisions and commitments of some form are made based on them. This is a common argument cited as to why estimating is immutable when working with customers in uncertain domains.

However, often the knock on effects of an initially inaccurate estimate are damaging financially or culturally. So I can imagine, in certain situations, it might be possible, and desirable, for the customer to ask for delivery of tiny working increments which can provide value for them right away and, explicitly, no estimates are asked for because doing so would create potentially irreversible knock on effects. Perhaps losing another customer’s trust by not meeting your “commitment” to them. Perhaps having to trash another project for which you had a team lined up to work on if things “went to schedule”.

I can imagine a few reasons why we might want to enter a working relationship in which we explicitly value the rapid delivery of added value over the anticipated delivery of value at some future point. Not to mention the trusted working relationship side of things. “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”.

These are the broader questions I’m interested in. We get it, we can forecast with data to avoid deterministic estimation rituals and provide more solid, transparent estimates of when we will be done, or what will be done by when.

But can #NoEstimates thinking actually take us further? Into whole new ways of working with our stakeholders and customers?