Why did the #NoEstimates idea took off?


So, what is the story behind #NoEstimates?

It all started with a small experiment in 2012, a short blog post, and a 60-character tweed! Woody Zuill had just completed a project. His team used no estimates, yet the project was successful "..users were happy. Boss was happy. The team was happy. Woody was happy." The original blog post where Woody Zuill shared the story is just brilliant. By the way, it is a highly recommended read😉!

It is brilliant because it is an original idea that led to discussions, sharing views, and progress in our industry. Woody starts by explaining he is not trying to sell anything:

A Few Paragraphs You Don't Need To Read I don't write books, sell certifications, do training, or provide workshops for a living. I have nothing to sell you. I've occasionally done introductory sessions about Agile stuff for a company or two. I love doing that, but it is not my living or my job.

We can see Woody is an honest and humble man, sharing his knowledge and expertise with the world. Respect @WoodyZuill!

Here is the first #NoEstimates tweet. Woody is sharing a link to the post he wrote the day before. This tweed certainly kicked off a lively discussion on the topic of estimates:

Why did the #NoEstimates discussion take off?

Thinking through this question, the discussion took off because (share your feedback if something is missing):

  1. Polarizing Idea. The idea of taking on software development without any estimates was and still is, for many, highly controversial. Since we started building software around 1950, estimating has been standard practice. So just hearing No Estimates in the context of software development was and still is a surprising and polarizing idea for many
  2. #NoEstimates hashtag perfectly captures the idea and grabs the attention
  3. Twitter and participation in the discussion have been critical in spreading the word
  4. Estimates are tricky. As with any tool, there are ways to use estimates correctly and incorrectly. In particular, estimates are tricky because the team needs to use them correctly. Also, they need to be presented so that they are interpreted correctly. Many have first-hand experiences where estimates were poorly applied. Therefore many are open to new ways of working
  5. Humans are inspired by polarizing content. We humans are more easily inspired to anger, see quote below, than by other emotions.

Let's cover the last point better and put this into context with what kind of stories we humans are more likely to engage with. Recently, we heard about the Facebook - whistleblower case from CBS - 60 minutes. In this case, Frances Haugen explained how Facebook's algorithms pick out the content we see:

consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is it is -- optimizing for content that gets engagement, or reaction. But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it's easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.

So many things were aligned for the idea to get attention, and it caught fire and grabbed attention!

Where does the #NoEstimates discussion stand today?

Today the #NoEstimates discussions have taken a different and darker tone almost nine years later. As many who take part in the debate, such as Ron Jeffries, Your Daily Scrum podcast and Peter Kretzman agree on. To quote what Ron is saying about this, there is a lot of "unproductive discussion", "unreasoned-name calling," and "ad-hominem arguments." In my mind, this kind of discussion is simply a waste of time.

One part of what fuels this fire is #NoEstimates proponents, who have stepped in with a more aggressive black-and-white stance on the topic, claiming that estimates are always bad. Even though Woody openly shares that:

These proponents differ from Woody as they sell books and services, helping teams implement #NoEstimates. It is great teams are getting expert help on Agile practices. However, I question the value and purpose of claiming Estimates are always bad and wonder what they are trying to accomplish with this.

But that is material for another blog post. Until then, cheers!

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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