Estimation Purposes Beyond The Customer

In my last post about Estimation Purposes – I spent a little time talking about the reason that our customer might want to estimate, and how estimation informs our conversation with the customer.

But the reason for estimation goes beyond the customer, and into our own management and leadership.

Listening to the #NoEstimates conversations that have been going on, I realized that most were focused on estimation only in the context of a project.  As if the sole purpose of the estimate is to determine how much the project will cost, and how quickly it can be done.

On another post that I am working on I talk about management and leadership activities, things that are “meta” to the project and meta to the people who are doing the work.  Forecasting.  One of the things that managers are responsible for are forecasts.  They need to compare their incoming budget forecast with their resource forecast.  They need to plan when they onboard and release contract employees, and how leadership will be assigned to projects.  They need to forecast how resources will be deployed so that all projects will have access to the skills required to get to done.

Estimates give them the ability to look ahead, to forecast, to plan, to lead.

Most of the people who have been speaking in the #NoEstimates conversation have been Doers and Leaders of work.  Project managers, consultants, agile coaches and the like.

As a manager, I am responsible for acquiring talent who will complete the work.  I am responsible for establishing the roles and the decision rights of the leaders who will lead the work.  I am responsible for forming the teams that will do the work.  I am responsible for ensuring that the teams implement and follow reasonable practices and processes while they are doing the work.  Those are all activities that have a long time horizon.  These activities need to be done in advance of the actual work that needs to be done (or there is additional risk in the work).

In order to do this well, I need to understand the capacity of my team (currently), and the capacity of my leaders (ability to scale up).  I need to have some idea of how much and what kind of work is pending to determine whether my current team has adequate skill and capacity to execute.  I need to understand when team members will be occupied and when they are available.  If, like many managers, my team is responsible for multiple systems, multiple concurrent projects and non-project work streams I need to predict how my resources will be deployed in time.

In order to do this, I need some idea of the size of a project that can be compared to my teams capacity.  That is an estimate.

Of course this forecast is not static.  It is not a project plan or a backlog.  It is a very dynamic, quickly changing view of my teams ability to take on new work.  That requires that I have reasonable estimates for the work that is underway, lower fidelity estimates for the work I have already committed to but not started, and swag estimates for work that is on the “horizon”.   It is perfectly rational and normal that the precision and fidelity of these estimates and notions of capacity decline the further out we go in time.

Oh, wait – no body in your organization has a forecast?  I guess then estimates are not so important.

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