Letter to the 'No Estimates' GangRead Now
In the world, there are programmers and Agile Coaches who are morally and/or practically against all estimates given to knowledge work, especially new product development in general, and computer programming in particular. I am not a member of the 'No Estimates' gang.
I've written down some of my thoughts, and would like to share them.
What if estimates were a prisoner's dilemma? Employers guess that they can make payroll, and programmers guess that they can make a product. Say what you want, but either way there are lots of scenarios where people go into unemployment because businesses close down for lack of revenue, and there are lots of scenarios where executives get rich from the working software made in a few Sprints by programmers who make little more than a working wage. Sometimes the harsh realities of life are better or worse than we'd like. People would prefer to have a feel for how likely things are going to be very sour, or very sweet in the near future, and a vague sense of what possible, probable, or certainly impossible in the distant future. This is why many of us mere mortals make estimates of lots of things: work, funds, and head-counts.
So long as there is an abundance of resentment, distrust and indifference to the interests of any counter-parties (investor, developer or user) in this bizarre love/hate triangle, nobody can catch magic in a bottle. On the other hand, when trust, agreement and engagement are present between all counter-parties, sometimes to everyone's delight, life is good sustainably.
Anyone is within their rights to point fingers and lay blame on managers (certainly a popular scapegoat among some Agile practitioners) and you don't need to look far for a post in LinkedIn claiming with a certainty that people who manage other people always beat them over the head with estimates, and insidiously claim that the estimates were a promise. (Pretty strong words.) Why go fixing a cynic?
"Well, that was Deming." says an Agile Coach in the room.
My response to such a comment would be this:
Yes, Deming was trying to prevent management from committing business suicide, according to Deming. I don't think that Deming has said that people managers need to go away forever. I've noticed that Toyota has lots and lots of people managers, with positional authority. It's not great, but it is a long-standing fact. To my knowledge Deming's words or deeds do not suggest that people managers are unneeded or inherently evil.
Also, Deming was ignored by his primary market: the United States. Deming and Goldratt alienated most of the mainstream in the United States corporate governance circles by being so strident and fatalistic as they were. Throughput accounting is not a commonly practiced thing in the world today. -Again I am open to thinking differently if someone wants to make that case here.
It would be folly to think that by lumping together the managers of the world, vilifying them, and claiming we pre-know they have a hidden agenda to libel workers, we'll thereby succeed in making the world substantially better.
I know a sales manager in the world, who really hates Deming, or at least hated Deming when I met the manager. I still wonder if there was some ham-fisted application of Deming's Theory of Profound Knowledge or off-handed remark which some consultant may have used in an abusive way that was very off-putting to my sales manager friend. Seems like a spoiled learning opportunity, to me. Let's not throw the baby of good planning, and frequent delivery of customer value, out with the bathwater of honest mistakes, and the best of intentions run amok. Estimates are useful when used only within the Scrum Team for Sprint Planning, and maybe used by the Product Owner for longer-term planning. Estimates are not always a bad idea, abusive, or counter-productive.
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