Is propaganda used to further the #NoEstimates agenda?

The trap

Is Propaganda used to further the #NoEstimates agenda?

When we look at the #NoEstimates & Estimates dialog today, it is clear polarization and division have overtaken the discussion. There is a reason for this. Because there is evidence, it is being manufactured and maintained on purpose.

It might come as a surprise to many. But you might have fallen into the #NoEstimates trap, unknowingly adding more fuel to the fire!

In this post, I will cover the methods used. And discuss how we can move beyond the polarization and the grim future it holds.

The first #NoEstimates tweet

The #NoEstimates movement started with a small experiment in 2012, a short blog post, and a ~60 character tweet! When Woody Zuill shared, he had just completed a project using no estimates. The idea certainly took off. The original blog post where Woody shared his story is just brilliant. It is brilliant because it's an original idea that led to discussions, sharing views, and progress in our industry.

The discussion today

Today, nine years later, the #NoEstimates discussions have taken a different and darker path. New people have come into the debate, few of them applying methods that are:

primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented.

When people use these methods, we need to pay attention. Why? Because this exact quote is the definition of Propaganda taken from Wikipedia. Sadly, these are the methods few of the key #NoEstimates proponents are actively using today.

Let's Look into what is said done and see if this is the case.

1. Using polarizing content to grab attention and spread the message

There were at least five things as covered in Why #NoEstimates took off that helped the #NoEstimates idea spread. Two of the most important ones are first 1. a polarizing idea and the fact that 2. humans are inspired by polarizing content. As we saw in a recent interview with Frances Haugen in the Facebook - whistleblower case from CBS - 60 minutes. Facebook's research shows content that is hateful, divisive, and polarizing is easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.

So it's clear polarizing content gets more engagement. As covered in Black and white stance on #NoEstimates considered harmful, we are seeing few #NoEstimates proponents manufacturing polarizing content that:

  1. Claims "estimates never work", making a faulty generalization
  2. Uses examples of how not to estimate to support claims that "estimates don't work," making a Straw man fallacy

Quoting the Wikipedia definition of Propaganda, what we are seeing is: ".. loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented".

2. Ridicule people who use estimates by stereotyping

Stereotyping is another propaganda technique used. Let's look at how stereotyping is defined, on Wikipedia:

This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes or finds undesirable.

Using the word estimator people using estimates are presented as clueless, often with abbreviations such as WTF, exclamation marks, etc. The intention is clear, to depict people who use estimates as ignorant, uninformed, and so on. Here is an example showing this in action:

You can find hundreds of similar tweets by searching for '#NoEstimates estimator' on Twitter.

3. Personal attacks rather than discussing the case

Another fallacy frequently used is attacking the person rather than discussing the case, i.e. Ad hominem fallacy.

4. Research shows repeating false statements make people believe

As covered in the posts a. Debunking 'estimates never work' and b. #NoEstimates straw man fallacy. Few key #NoEstimates proponents are knowingly repeating false claims that 'estimates don't work.' In the following Wikipedia article on Illusory truth effect, it says that:

researchers discovered that familiarity can overpower rationality and that repetitively hearing a certain fact is wrong can affect the hearer's beliefs.

There are hundreds (likely thousands) of tweets under the #NoEstimates hashtag on Twitter, claiming "estimates never work" or/and using the "straw man fallacy". We see in these examples proponents are "selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception", Wikipedia definition of Propaganda.

In summary - is Propaganda used to advance #NoEstimates?

Based on the facts presented and methods used, the content manufactured to provoke and maintain the fire and the actions of the few proponents behind this. It is clear, quoting Wikipedia's definition of Propaganda, we are seeing Propaganda used to:

" influence an audience and further an agenda"

Why is Propaganda used?

Why do we see Propaganda used to further the #NoEstimates agenda?

Selling books and services

It happens to be the case the few key proponents using these methods are selling books and services around the #NoEstimates theme - so this might have an impact.

Is the world a better place without estimates?

Another factor is the belief the world might be a better place without estimates. To make this claim, #NoEstimates proponents have created many posts, some of which contain the phrase "#NoEstimates death march".

I might need another post to explain the problem with this argument. In short, this is like saying we should ban knives, credit cards, etc. Because they can be used with negative consequences, let's keep in mind the tools themselves have no "agenda." It's always in the hands of the person using the tool to use it wisely. Therefore you can't claim tools such as knives, credit cards, or estimates are always bad. People making this claim are fighting the wrong battle.

Are we heading towards a future where we can't decide what tools or methods we use?

Are you stuck in a trap?

Moving beyond Propaganda

I think our future lies beyond the authoritarian world current propaganda is bringing us. While tools provide value, people will continue using them. Both estimates and no estimates provide value when used correctly.

Shouldn't people have the freedom to decide what method or tools they use without ridicule, personal attacks, provocative false claims, and random confrontations?

You shape the future

Each and everyone in the industry can make an impact. You have a choice, take the:

  • Blue pill - If you want the #NoEstimates Propaganda to continue - do nothing.
  • Red pill - If you want the #NoEstimates Propaganda to stop - then read on

Share this post when you see the following behaviors:

  1. People repeating false claims, using polarizing content to grab attention
  2. People discriminating against others for using estimates
  3. Personal attacks rather than discussing the case.

As a last resort, stop following people showing behavior you don't want to see.

It's that simple, until next time, cheers!

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About Smart Guess We help teams educate stakeholders by providing actionable answers to common misconceptions about estimates. So more teams can use estimates to their advantage, and fewer are held accountable for delivering on impossible deadlines.

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