For any project, developing and following a schedule is a vital aspect. It is even more crucial within an Agile setting, where assignments, assets, and objectives can quickly change. In spite of that, teams should aim to gauge both the time and financial resources needed for each task to enable effective planning and successful delivery of the desired outcomes.
By utilizing Agile project estimation methods correctly, teams can effectively allocate their skills and resources, as well as prioritize particular tasks and components. A wrong estimation can lead to delayed delivery, which could jeopardize stakeholder relationships and the ultimate success of the project. Estimation helps teams become more accountable for their deliverables by producing benchmarks for assigned tasks. You can find more information about effective Agile retrospectives solutions on our blog.
As an experienced Scrum Master or Product Owner, you may already know about a variety of popular estimation techniques. Choosing the most appropriate method is crucial to achieving the greatest outcome, and each approach has its unique benefits. The selection of a technique is influenced by various factors such as project complexity, team size, and remote work setup. To assist you in recognizing the most effective estimation methods for Agile projects and selecting the best one for your team, we’ve put together a set of guidelines.
It should be kept in mind that under any circumstances, the Scrum Master or Product Owner will serve as a facilitator and will not participate in the process. Their responsibility includes making sure that the estimation exercise is carried out effectively, but they will not be directly involved in the process themselves.
Planning Poker: The Key to Precise Estimations
To foster agreement-building among team members, a facilitator can provide each individual with nine cards, each engraved with a number from the Fibonacci sequence (or its variation). This sequence follows a pattern wherein the sum of the last two numbers equals the next one, e.g. 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89. The exponential scale of the Fibonacci sequence facilitates teams in accurately identifying task complexity and distinguishing them more effortlessly than with a linear scale. Then, team members will choose the card that they believe best represents the effort necessary to complete the task or feature, face down (1 generally involves the least amount of effort). Finally, the cards are exposed together and any outliers should be addressed. This process continues until the team members reach a consensus.
Planning Poker is a popular choice among Agile estimation methods that assists teams in coming to a quick and accurate consensus. Designed to limit the options available and to reduce the possibility of participants influencing each other, this approach also effectively saves time. Additionally, this technique is highly advantageous for remote teams as it can be easily adapted for online use, with many available web applications catalyzing this process.
T-shirt Sizes: Ideal for Initial Estimations
Akin to Planning Poker but offering fewer alternatives, this approach provides a fast method of evaluating the exertion linked with a vast quantity of items. The participants receive cards that carry T-shirt sizes – XS, S, M, L, XL – to indicate the amount of effort they estimate is required for each item. Following the presentation of the cards, team members can converse and reconsider until they accomplish a shared consensus.
Thanks to its easy-to-use design, collaborative features, and uncomplicated five-category pattern, this estimation method is ideal for individuals who are new to estimation or who operate from remote locations. Although this technique may be considered basic, it provides an excellent starting point and is typically implemented at the onset of a project when a vague estimation is required, and there is an excess of items in the backlog.
Dot Voting: Most Suitable for Remote Teams
This method is most efficiently utilized digitally using a whiteboard tool, such as Miro, due to its simplicity and convenience. The facilitator initially needs to create a catalog of backlog items and then distribute one multicoloured dot sticker to each team member. Subsequently, each person employed the dot sticker to vote on the items according to the level of complexity, with one sticker representing the simplest items and five stickers indicating the most complex ones. The higher the number of dots on an item, the greater its significance will appear.
It’s essential to note that participants may be influenced by the number of stickers present beside a particular story point by other participants. However, this problem can be addressed by concealing personal votes until the end of the voting process. Dot Voting provides an appealing way to conduct this type of voting, and the precision of the voting can be enhanced, if needed, by using a larger scale, such as 1-10.
Affinity Mapping: Best for Co-located Teams
Affinity Mapping, also known as Affinity Grouping or Affinity Estimation, is a comparative method that involves grouping together elements that have a similar degree of task complexity. The output is similar to that of T-shirt Sizing techniques; however, the approach implemented to acquire it is different. To illustrate the level of exertion, the team initially attaches the label “Smaller” to the left side of a wall and “Larger” to the right side. The members then assign their individual items and position them between the two labels, placing them in order of their relative sizes. Lastly, the team discusses and relocates any items that they feel were wrongly positioned.
This technique is most fitting for teams that operate in the same physical location. It is crucial to recognize that this method only offers a fundamental approximation of the complexity of an item and should only be employed when a rough comprehension of the duration and expense of a project is required.
Bucket System: Best for a Considerable Backlog
The Moderator employs a technique that deals with arranging nine “buckets” on a table, typically in the Fibonacci sequence or a related variation. Smaller cards or adhesive notes with the items from the backlog are then allotted among the group members. To start, a single member randomly picks an item and places it in the middle bucket (the 8th). Subsequently, the other members place their items in the bucket they believe fits the corresponding degree of effort required in comparison to the initial item. After the activity concludes, the team reviews all of the buckets; if any member disagrees with an item’s placement, the team discusses it until they all reach consensus.
The Bucket System is an efficient method for teams that are required to estimate a massive number of items. This technique has the advantage of enabling members to rapidly appraise each item and assume individual responsibility for their estimates. Following individual evaluations, a group discussion is only required, therefore, those who have prior experience in estimation will benefit from this method.
Method of Ordering: Designed for Experienced Teams
This technique is a beneficial way of displaying the connection between items and evaluating their relative importance. If the team is in the same location, the moderator can randomly place the items on a wall or table. If they are remote, the team can employ a digital whiteboard. The goal is to arrange the items from low to high effort levels. Members can subsequently take turns shifting an item of their choice up or down the line by one place. The action is based on the discrepancy in the effort needed for that particular item in comparison with the items on either side of it.
As a result of its focus on individual decision-making, the Ordering Method performs optimally with an experienced team skilled in estimation.
Choosing the Best Fit
As an Agile expert or team leader, it is crucial that you have the ability to supervise a successful estimation process for your team. By allotting numerical values to features or stories, members can objectively communicate their individual perspectives, allowing you to plan the next project more accurately and track its progress accordingly. To guarantee the precision of these estimates, it is imperative that you value the viewpoints of your team members based on their expertise, unless data from previous projects suggests otherwise.
It is crucial to caution the team that having overly optimistic estimates is unproductive and can harm the project. If any assumptions or dependencies change while the project is underway, it is imperative to schedule at least one additional estimation session to ensure precision.
The type of project, team size, and team members’ level of expertise in estimation are all factors that will impact which technique is most appropriate.