The need for accurate estimations is universal to all projects – regardless of the industry, company size, or methodology. However, agile estimation takes on a different form than traditional waterfall estimation. In Agile development, the timeboxed iterations (sprints) and overall project duration are more flexible and changeable than in other methodologies. This necessitates that the estimation process is adaptive and allows for changes in requirements and priorities as the project evolves.
While there is inherent uncertainty surrounding agile project estimates, pre-planning and creating an agile estimation is a crucial step to keep each sprint and project stage in motion. This article will discuss the importance of agile estimations, common pitfalls when creating (or not creating them), and some examples of their use.
Agile Project Methodology
The Agile project methodology has its roots in software development. The key aspects of Agile that differentiate it from other project management methodologies include:
- It is iterative and incremental development
- Emphasizes collaboration and customer involvement
- Incorporates adaptive planning
- Delivers frequent products
- Requires continuous improvement throughout the project lifespan
Each one of these agile steps is reflected in the estimation process. In traditional waterfall project estimation, the entire project is planned and committed to a singular timeline and budget. This approach does not work as well for agile projects, which are characterized by their flexibility and need for constant adaptation. Waterfall estimations are akin to a “guess,” while agile estimations are more like a “plan.” The goal of agile estimation is not to be 100% accurate (this is impossible) but rather to create a guide that will be useful for your long-term project planning.
The Benefits of Creating Agile Estimations
There are many benefits of taking the time to create agile estimations, even though they may seem like a daunting task. By their very nature, agile estimations force you to think through each task and its associated subtasks to create the most accurate estimate. Some of the benefits of estimating include:
Helps Uncover Potential Risks
Spending the time on the front end can help you uncover potential risks and issues that otherwise might not have been considered. For example, suppose you estimate the time to complete a website redesign and realize that your graphic designer is out for two weeks at the end of the month. In that case, this is a potential risk that can impact the overall project timeline.
Opens A Dialogue With The Team
When you identify the future of your project, it forces you to have conversations with your team early on. These estimations provide visibility into the project timeline and allow you to track progress against scheduled milestones. This is especially important for large projects involving many people that span multiple sprints or releases. Knowing in advance how long each time block will take creates transparency and accountability within the team by ensuring that everyone understands what work needs to be done and how long it should take.
Keeps The Team On Track
Creating agile estimates forces you to consider dependencies between tasks, which can help identify areas of the project that are at risk of slipping behind schedule. By understanding these dependencies, you can create a project schedule that keeps the team on track and minimizes the risk of delays. For example, if you predict that the development of a new feature will take two sprints, you can plan accordingly and make sure that the team has enough time to complete the work.
Common Pitfalls When Creating Agile Estimates
One of the most common pitfalls when creating agile estimates is not considering the inherent uncertainty of every project. Your agile estimation’s goal is not to hit a bullseye every time but to create a guide that will be useful for your long-term project planning. This means that you need to account that some tasks will take longer than expected while others will take less time.
Another common pitfall is not involving the entire team in the estimation process. When creating agile estimates, you should try to get input from everyone working on the project. When you involve internal and external stakeholders in the estimation process, create transparency and accountability from the first day of the project.
Finally, one of the biggest mistakes when estimating your agile project is not regularly revisiting your estimates. As your project progresses and new information becomes available, you should consistently go back and update your estimates and timelines. This will ensure that your project stays on track with both budget and time and can help prevent scope creep or potential delays.
Examples of Agile Estimations
There are many different ways to create agile estimations, and the approach you take will depend on the size and scope of your project. For example, for smaller projects, you might estimate the time needed for each task using a simple scale (e.g., small, medium, or large).
For larger projects, you can use more detailed estimation techniques such as:
- Planning Poker
- T-Shirt Size Estimation
- Affinity Mapping
- Function Point Analysis
Planning Poker: Planning poker is a common estimation technique agile teams use. The team uses a deck of cards, with each card representing a different time increment (e.g., one day, one week, two weeks). The team goes through the project backlog and assigns a card to each task. Once all tasks are estimated, the team discusses any discrepancies and comes to a consensus on the final estimates.
T-Shirt Size Estimation: T-shirt size estimation is a quick way to estimate the relative size of tasks without getting into the details. The team uses a simple scale (e.g., XS, S, M, L, XL) to classify each task as small, medium, or large. This technique is best used for projects with a small number of well-understood tasks.
Affinity Mapping: Affinity mapping is a brainstorming technique used to group similar items. The team writes down each task on a sticky note and then groups the notes into categories. This technique helps identify patterns and trends in the data.
Function Point Analysis: Function point analysis is a detailed estimation technique that measures the complexity of a project. The team uses a set of criteria to classify each task as simple, medium, or complex. This approach is best used for large projects with many interdependent tasks.
Which agile estimation technique is right for your project will depend on its size and scope. But no matter which approach you take, involving the entire team in the estimation process is key to creating accurate estimates. And don’t forget to revisit your estimates regularly as your project progresses and new information becomes available.
Project Management Software For Agile Estimations
Project management software can be an excellent asset for agile estimation. Using a PM tool like Hive, you will be able to keep track of your sprints, tasks, and deadlines in one place. And, with Hive’s visual Kanban boards, you can see which tasks are assigned to each team member and the progress of each task. So don’t lose any notes, or tasks or let scope creep take over your projects. Try Hive today if you’re looking for a project management tool to help your agile estimation!
What tips do you have for creating agile estimates? Share your thoughts in the comments below!