Monday, June 24, 2019

Control, or the Fear of Losing It

We play tricks on ourselves, Woody Zuill says. We think that we estimate because it gives us control. In reality, we estimate because we fear losing control. The irony, of course, is that we aren't in control: estimates are inaccurate, decisions are still based on them, commitments are also based on them, projects overrun, commitments are broken, costs spiral, ...

Spending more time estimating typically doesn't make us better at estimating but it does take time away from doing. 

Zuill's experience is that it's possible to build software without any estimates by taking an important piece of functionality, building only the absolutely critical pieces of it, and then putting it in front of someone. The doing, and the review of what's been done, will help to determine what should be done next.

Sounds simple? Yes, but it's not easy. It's crucial to find allies and customers who are ready to accept it.

Here's my tidied-up sketchnotes from Woody's Beyond Estimates talk last night at Cambridge Agile Exchange.


  1. Hi!

    Don't buy into this. Stay skeptical.

    If no one isn't even curious about when what we're working on is likely ready for use then we must be working on something very uninteresting with nothing more interesting in sight.
    And if someone is at least curious then it seems collaborative to at least try to help answer that. And it also seems collaborative to at least try to help estimate how other people's money should be spent.

    Kind regards,

  2. In the presence of uncertainties found on all software development projects, risk is created.
    Epistemic uncertainty creates "reducible" risk that can be handled by spending time and money to discover the source of the risk and "reduce" it to an acceptable level
    Aleatory uncertainty create "irreducible" risk which can only be handled with "margin." Cost margin, schedule margin, or technical margin.

    Making decisions in the presence of these uncertainties and the risks they create means making estimates.

    This is an IMMUTABLE principle of Managerial Finance, Microeconomics of Software Development and Statistical Decision making.

    Woody Zuill claims decisions can be made on software projects Without Estimates. This claim is a fallacy and violates at least 3 immutable principles of business management.

    Without understanding these principles, Woody's claim cannot be tested. Here's a start to that understanding where we work on software intensive system of systems

    Here's more resource materials on estimating in the presence of uncertainty

    When you hear claims from Woody, ask yourself - "is this my money?" If so spend it as you wish, estimating or not estimating how much you'll need, when you'll be done, and what you'll get from that time and money.

    If it's not your money, you as the spender of the money don't get to make the decision about estimating, those paying you do.

    There are endless examples of "bad management" around estimating. But those are symptoms of a larger root cause. Here's some resources on how to take corrective or preventive actions in the presence of root causes

    But NONE of those causes, their conditions or actions is going to be fixed by NOT Estimating, if you work where there is uncertainty and it's not your money being spent.