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Unfortunately, all projects deliver in this unknown time zone called the future and we are dealt a challenge to maximise opportunities for project success even though we are delving into the unknown a little. To at least begin this process we seek to remove the risks and errors in our estimating processes before we reliably assess agile activities and go on to planning.

Also unfortunately, experience shows, genuine real-world events have a fateful tendency to wantonly ignore estimates and plans. Niels Bohr the Danish physicist who refined our understanding of atomic structure and quantum mechanics is very often cited as the source of the quotation: Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

Yesterdays football scores are easier to predict than next weeks scores. Next weeks scores may impart kudos with your football knowledgeable peers if you are somewhere near your predictions. However we all know that it is next week or the next stage or the next phase or next month when the unwelcome unidentified unforeseen has a fateful tendency to appear.

Furthermore, because we are working in an agile way welcoming investigation and allowing regular change we are adding to the unpredictability and therefore increasing the impact of the unforeseen. This is the first change. We are working in an adaptive fashion, so we will estimate in an adaptive fashion. We will split our estimating down into steps and deliver estimates throughout the development cycle, refining and improving our estimate as we go.


In modern development processes, it is very difficult to reliably and with certainty predict the effort and time required for development subtasks. There are few subtasks that can be described, launched, processed and tested let alone rerun in a predictable automated and repeated manner. Events that are predictable and repeatable are less complex to estimate whereas random and unpredictable events are much more of a challenge.

There are many industries that demonstrate this concept. Garment manufacture processes use modern motorised high-speed automated sewing machines. These are preset to the tensile properties of the fabrics and the thread. This helps to make the repeatable process of garment manufacture predictable in terms of effort, cost and time. However the design of a garment is an adaptive process that involves prototyping, feedback and rework. This cannot be automated or left to run unattended. It involves constant refinement through inspection, examination and adjustment. It is a nonlinear process that is complex, exigent, feedback driven and demands the influential involvement of humans.

This human involvement and adjustment provides the control and management to positively impact the outcome and to allow us to understand the process. This in a way seeks to avoid the negative consequences of the Butterfly effect where small alteration to settings and qualities generate outcomes that radically diverge from those planned. Through inspection and examination of your processes and behaviours you will uncover small alterations which can be engaged positively and other actions which require adjustment or removal.

In this instance, it is the inspection and examination which provide the necessary control for the adjustment. The inspection and examination processes during estimating will often be carried out by more than one person, more often than not by a group. It is the group that provides checks and balances and necessary improvement over an autonomous individual.

In the book The Wisdom of Crowds (inaccurately used by Darren Brown for an explanation of his National Lottery prediction), the author James Surowiecki looks at how a partnership approach that involves group collaboration succeeds to deliver a more accurate outcome than that chosen by an individual. It is precisely this group benefit we seek to achieve when we collaborate to deliver more accurate and reliable estimates. Remember that crowds do not perform certain tasks, such as creativity and imagination, well and you can beneficially deploy your crowd to good effect and exercise its positive benefits. A group of developers is content to elaborate and expand a planned and organised development with strong strategy happily developing and delivering its intended outputs. However this very same group will be there all day and very much longer trying to derive what the strategy should be. The term Design by Committee, which has been attributed to a number of possible book and human sources, was derived as the derogatory expression for the defective production of output(s) created by a group with a series of disparate objectives and without cohesive management.

Inventiveness of the individual and cohesion of the group are not respectful bedfellows. Let us look now at the background to estimating and the mechanisms we use to perform this on agile projects.

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