Are Your Estimates Valuable?

Estimates are supposed to inform decision making by reducing uncertainty.  This also applies to the types of estimates developers are asked to provide.  Because estimates (not guesses and guesstimates) require some effort and rigor, its only fair to ensure that the product of the developer estimation process actually reduces uncertainty to the point that it actually justified going through the estimation exercise.

If you were to do an analysis of the estimation activities that your team(s) perform, would you find that they are truly used to reduce uncertainty? Does their impact on decision making justify the effort spent in actually doing them?  Do you ask yourselves “what question does this answer and how does this estimate reduce uncertainty or can we use some other criteria for decision making?”.  What would go wrong if you didn’t do them? Why are we doing them in the first place?

Are your estimates just a proxy for communicating something else such as a deadline or fixed budget?

Could the exercise just be a ritual or tradition that may satisfy/address some human need.  Human needs are extremely important, but could it be met some other way?  I’m a ardent supporter of Arsenal Football Club and every time a player is injured I want the estimate on when the player will be back.  It gives me some comfort to know when a player will be coming back but that’s about it.  I don’t use the estimate for anything else.

So do yourself a favor, take some time to see if your (developer) estimates are truly valuable.  It may seem like this should be common sense but as Voltaire put it:

Common sense is not so common.



3 Replies to “Are Your Estimates Valuable?”

  1. I don’t think developers ever need to be convinced that estimates are unreliable and time wasted. I don’t think even Product Owners really feel they need them, because they’re usually fine prioritizing according to value.

    The people who do want estimates are usually other departments, who need to synchronize with a given development timeline – say marketing is planning a campaign, or customer service needs to foresee training etc.

    In arguing against estimates, it’s those peoples’ needs we need to address and speak to.


    1. Michal –

      Yes, and I wasn’t only speaking to developers. I am speaking to everyone who believes they have a need for them. It is critical we all understand when they are needed regardless of role

      Thanks for you comments.


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