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How long is a piece of string? The key to solving the conundrum of software estimation


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We've probably all been asked to come up with a set of software estimates for a project with very little detail, very little time to do it and plenty of quizzical looks when it's given. Writing software is very rarely like painting a room, where a person can reasonably give an estimate to the nearest day.

Between tech debt, lack of useful documentation and a new requirement never done before, it is very hard for a software team and the lead developer to come up with what the business often wants - an accurate estimate! (if such a thing were possible).

So, what is the solution? Storypointing, MVPs, spikes and an iterative approach all help towards a goal of better software estimation and so success of a project, but the best, single most important element I have seen is the existence of trust between a software team and product owner. On the product owner that they wont make promises to the business based on estimates and on the software team that they will give an honest assessment of the work involved and not inflate estimates.

When it works it is a powerful thing and is a million times more effective than the 'them' and 'us' attitudes that exist in some places and that do nobody any good.

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How long is a piece of string? The key to solving the conundrum of software estimation

  1. 1. How long is a piece of string? The key to solving the conundrum of software estimation
  2. 2. Infinite? (at the fractal level) 1 “the quantitative answer is not known and there is an implicate understanding that the answer will be difficult to find given the information available”
  3. 3. Exercise - Sorting cards… 1. Split a deck of cards in two at a random place 2. Put one part face up the other face down 3. Mix them up Estimate (in seconds): A. Sorting them into the different suits B. Sorting them into numerical order into the separate suits 2
  4. 4. 3 A story
  5. 5. 3 A story
  6. 6. Use expert estimators 5 Count and multiply Credit: CBS
  7. 7. Compare with historical projects 0-1,000,000,000 Ranges: 8 Credit: CBS
  8. 8. Gut feel 21Credit: CBS
  9. 9. “Double it to be safe” 34 Credit: CBS
  10. 10. T-shirt Sizing 55 Credit: CBS
  11. 11. Storypointing Monte Carlo simulations Credit: CBS 89
  12. 12. 144
  13. 13. Hofstadter’sLaw: “Italwaystakes longer thanyou expect,even whenyou take into accountHofstadter’sLaw” 233
  14. 14. #NoEstimates 377
  15. 15. 610 Credit: CBS
  16. 16. 987 Credit: CBS
  17. 17. NeverTRUSTan atom They make up everything 1597
  18. 18. 2584 Credit: CBS 1. Make and keep the commitments you can
  19. 19. tbc 4181 Credit: CBS 2. Be transparent
  20. 20. 6765Credit: CBS 3. Don’t overdo things
  21. 21. 10946Credit: CBS 4. Show empathy
  22. 22. tbc 17711 Credit: CBS Credit: 5. Educate ourselves
  23. 23. 28657 Planning a walk Credit: Tripadvisor
  24. 24. 46368Credit: Youtube Credit: Flikr
  25. 25. 46368Credit: Youtube Credit: Flikr
  26. 26. ? What’s next ? Tweet me @JonathanRigby