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January 4, 2023
7 min read

What Can Go Wrong Without Estimating in Agile Planning?

Teams that estimate in Agile-based project development find it helpful to have a shared understanding of the required efforts. However, some teams also don't think estimation is that important. So, let's discuss the key role estimation plays in Agile planning.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Learn what can go wrong without estimation

With the new digitalized and competitive era, organizations have to come up with new ways of managing and executing projects to meet customer expectations and remain ahead of the competition. Owing to that, many organizations are shifting towards Agile-based project development that focuses on iterative-based development of projects, involving several incremental steps or iterations to complete the project. One element of Agile planning is estimating the product backlog items that help in estimating the efforts required to complete the project. However, many think that an Agile project can even proceed without estimating. So, this article is meant to clarify this doubt and tends to discuss the role estimation plays in Agile planning.

Why Do Organizations Conduct Estimation?

The very first thing to understand is why organizations conduct estimation in Agile project development. Basically, estimation is not just confined to software development, but it is also a part of our day-to-day life. For example, when someone asks you when you will reach, you will evaluate the distance and other factors and then provide the estimated time by when you will reach the destination. Project planning also needs some element of estimation, as it helps the team to have a better glimpse of how much effort they are required to accomplish the goals of the project.

Estimation in Agile is meant to develop a shared understanding of the requirements and the shared understanding of the solutions. A team estimates the product backlog items by understanding them first and then estimating the efforts required to complete them. During the understanding and discussion phase, they also get to look into expected complications or uncertainties they have to deal with. Therefore, estimation is a way for teams to have a well-prepared mindset before jumping into the development phase. Team members look more focused and motivated, as they know what end goals they are targeting to achieve.

What is the Common Way of Doing Estimation?

There is no standard technique or approach that organizations must follow to do estimates. In fact, there are many estimation techniques out there that different organizations follow depending on their business model and team's interest. Planning Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, Async Poker, Bucket System, Affinity Estimation, and similar others are well-known estimation techniques. However, the most popular and widely used estimation technique is Planning Poker.

Planning Poker is a consensus-based estimation technique that uses story points to estimate product backlogs. The story points are mostly based on the Fibonacci Sequence, i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, and so on. Below are the steps involved in a Planning Poker estimation meeting:

  1. Product Owner, Scrum Master, and development team join the on-premises meeting room. The development team is handed over poker-styled cards to provide story points.
  2. The product owner takes one user story (product backlog item) and reads it out to the team. Afterward, the team discusses the user story to evaluate what approach they have to follow to accomplish the goal. Moreover, they also look for uncertainties that might show up later on.
  3. Once the discussion is completed, every member picks a poker card that he/she thinks best represents the story point for that story. Afterward, everyone shows their cards at once.
  4. If everyone has shown the same card, then that is declared the team's estimate. However, if there are some variations, then the ones providing the highest and lowest points are given a chance to present their thoughts. Afterward, the team re-estimates and reach a consensus.
  5. The above steps continue until all user stories are estimated.

That's how the Planning Poker technique helps Agile teams to conduct estimates of their product backlogs. Some organizations that have remote employees as well use Async Poker – The Asynchronous Planning Poker technique to estimate. In this modified Planning Poker technique, the user stories are sent to members for estimates, and the members read and estimate them before the deadline. Afterward, the moderator gathers the estimates and finalizes the team's estimates.

What Does an Organization Miss Without Estimation?

Now that we know why organizations do estimation and how they do it, let's shift our focus to the main point of this article, i.e., what can go wrong without estimation? Below are some key points that an organization can miss without estimation:

Lack of Shared Understanding

Estimation is a chance for a team to get together and talk about what they are going to work on next. For example, in a Planning Poker session, the team discusses each story one by one, understands the requirements, finalizes the working strategy, and also includes the uncertainties that might occur. This means that the team is developing a shared understanding of both the problems and the solutions where members can pinpoint some important factors that some don't notice otherwise.

When a team does not estimate, it means that they are heading to the project development phase blindly. They might have some rough ideas about what to do, but they lack the shared understanding aspect that is crucial for quality deliveries.

No Glimpse of End Goals

It is a common perception that when the end goals are clear, the efforts become more focused towards achieving those end goals. Estimation of product backlog items helps the team to have a clear glimpse of end goals, meaning that the team gets to know where all their efforts are going to lead.

When the team does not estimate, it means that their efforts have no final stop. They are just focusing on day-to-day tasks with no bigger picture of the end goals. This will result in a lack of commitment that could boost the quality outcome.

Unidentified Complications

Projects are full of uncertainties or complications that can come in the shape of technical issues, customer-changing demands, delayed responses from stakeholders, and many more. These complications can very well get addressed during the estimation meeting because the team discusses every user story, so there are very high chances that someone will pinpoint the expected complications. This way, the team gets prepared beforehand and arranges a counterattack against those challenges.

Now imagine if the team does not do estimates and issues show up during the development phase. This will increase the pressure and stress level because the team is not prepared for that. And if it takes longer to address those complications, then those hurdles will delay the progress, which can lead to more pressure.

Chances of Missed Deadline

Estimation in Agile is more about the efforts required to complete the work instead of how much time it will take to complete the work. When the team estimates, it not just discusses how to accomplish the task, but also evaluates the hurdles that might show up. So, the estimates are more focused on efforts, which also include some margin of expected and unexpected uncertainties.

A team heading to the project without conducting an estimation session might provide inaccurate deadlines to the stakeholders. They might achieve those deadlines if everything goes smoothly, but what if they face some unexpected complications? That's when things become a lot more complicated, as not just they have to address the issues but also ensure that they meet the deadline. Failing to do so might upset stakeholders and the positive sentiments of the project.

Lack of Collaboration

Estimation is a way for the team to gather for a couple of hours to talk and discuss user stories. This increases the collaboration among the team members, especially the new members that don't have a bond with other members currently. The collaboration along with the shared understanding of the project is then reflected in the outcome of the project, as the team members support each other in ensuring timely and quality deliveries.

When the team does not estimate, it is missing a golden chance of collaboration. Although they can collaborate in other areas as well, sitting together in a dedicated estimation session and having a shared understanding of the product backlog altogether do build a special bond between the teammates.

Wrapping Up

Considering the fast-paced development era where new products are coming into the market a lot faster, Agile project management help organizations keep the workflow in full swing. The above discussion on the importance of estimation in Agile planning clearly shows the fruitful outcomes associated with it. A team that estimates its product backlog items is in a lot better position compared to one not estimating. So, the final words of this article are that estimation is a must to have a shared understanding of the requirements, have a better projection of hidden complications, and have a well-prepared and focused team.

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