Agile 2013 Reading – Agile Estimation at It’s Best


Agile Estimation Like My 2013 Reading Project

I have over 20 books that I need to read (re-read) this year… and I just bought about 7 more (in the mail) that will be hitting my doorstep in the next week. Every year I try to read at least 2 books per month. This year, due to my backlog, I pretty much have my entire reading backlog ready for 2013. While I was putting my book-stack together, something occurred to me… how all this reading… while a good plan… might not get done. And, according to previous experience and history, often it’s not. Sounds like a “failed project” correct? You’re absolutely right. Let’s break it down for a second.

Product Backlog

  • 28 or so books
  • All different sizes and lengths
  • Different material… but some can be grouped into a “theme”
  • The product backlog will change over time (as I add books or even remove book priorities)

Product Goal

  • To complete my total reading of at least 24 books (2 per month) for the year
  • While the goal is set, I know that priorities will change

Planning and Estimation

Let’s be honest for a moment here:

  • I’ve read about 7 of the 28 books or so but I haven’t “recorded” how long it took me to read them (heads down reading)
  • The other books, I have no idea how long it’ll take, with interruptions, flights to catch, quiet hotel nights, etc, etc.
  • I know I need to move towards the goal, but since the majority of the “work” (reading), I’ve never done before, it would be foolish to “estimate” how long it’ll take for each unit (book) of work.
  • I know that I need to just execute. Learn, see how long a book takes, affinity estimate, or compare against other books, inspect, adapt, and review towards the total completion goal.

I know that only through the act of EXECUTION and LEARNING will I truly know or understand my “capacity” for work and ability to complete the work “on time.”

We’re terrible at estimation. You do not “know” because you have never done.

Let me repeat that:

“You do not know (the estimate of anything), because you have not done it (before).”

Consider the massive implications on your work and business:

  1. The business asks you up front for estimates on work you’ve never done before.
  2. You take a guess and hope for the best.

What a terrible existence to have!

We cover this a lot in our workshops and classes, but the main point is: We need to have opportunities to execute, learn, and grow. Only through experience will we be able to better give estimates. Find opportunities to execute, try, and learn. If your company doesn’t allow for experimentation, you will never have innovation.

Have a great kaizen 2013 my friends! Learn learn learn!


6 Replies to “Agile 2013 Reading – Agile Estimation at It’s Best”

  1. (a) You have not failed, you are merely not achieving an expected velocity because you have commitments other than this project. You need to revise (reduce in this case) your velocity from 2 books per month to something more realistic based on the resource allocation available.

    (b) You have the wrong goal. It should NOT be “read at least 2 books per month”. Tat is not a goal, it is an expectation of applied effort. It SHOULD be either “read 4 great classics per year” or “research4 new subjects per year”.

    (c) “Read at least 2 books per month” is not a SMART objective. What if you read War & Peace or The Lord of the Rings? Do they only count as “one book”? You re not using a good unit of measure. How about “read 400 pages per month” or “one textbook per month and one light reading book per month”? What happens if you sit and read 12 months’ worth of technical magazines- do they count as one book or twelve or none? You need to use different units of measurement for your throughput.

  2. (b+) With further thought, perhaps your goal should be something like this:

    By the end of each season in the year to achieved one of these:
    – be able to talk about a new subject with confidence (e.g. an author’s work, a style of art, a development approach, a period in history, a country, a great person’s achievement, a political movement).

    – to have tried a new activity (e.g. a sport, a craft or art activity, a new kind of social event, a new style of cooking).

    – to have tried something I did not think I would like (e.g. a foodstuff, a restaurant, a movie genre, a book genre, a kind of social gathering, a small waterfall development :-).

    That way you will probably be achieving the *outcome* you were hoping your ‘project’ would deliver. And if you are not managing to find the time to do the reading you want, it is either because you are busy having a life and achieving the goals above, or because your life is full of externally imposed crap that you need to make go away.

    1. Simon,

      Love your feedback here!
      Yes. Even as a practitioner, I need to step back and look at things. I appreciate your advice.
      So far… according to my ONLY data, I’ve finished two books in January (ahead of schedule). One book was 270ish pages, and the other was 250ish.

      The “goal” as I stated in my post, probably wasn’t a good one (this is where agile shines as I inspect and adapt). I’m trying to have quick release cycles here lol.

      I think page-count might be too detailed… but I do like what you posit in your comment.

      The REAL goal is to utilize what I learn and apply it. <------------- I would think then, the real goal is a metric around: "APPLYING at least 2 things I learn from my reading at least once per month." Hows that? 🙂

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