Why teams should estimate their work

When we worked with Software teams in Sprint Plannings, we realised, that they usually followed good practices to implement tools to make the planning efficient. But often there was still a misunderstanding of why they should estimate their tasks. Therefore, the team discussed details endlessly – even when we did not need to resolve them right away.

When we asked teams why we should estimate, most answered: We need to know, how long it would take to develop the story. And partly this makes sense: This knowledge helps the product team to make more informed decisions on when to release.

The answer of the Scrum Guide

But according to The Scrum Guide, the planning should answer the following two questions:

  1. What can be delivered in the Increment resulting from the upcoming Sprint?
  2. How will the work needed to deliver the Increment be achieved?

Team members use estimations to answer the first question. But the focus of the answer should lead teams to look on what to deliver; not how long it takes.

Achieving a certain velocity is not the goal of a sprint planning – it is it’s result

Realising this I started to explain, that the team should not find out in Sprint Planning 1, how long they need to develop something. Instead, the team should make sure, that everyone has the same understanding of the story.

Suddenly, teams discussed during estimations less about exact numbers. They rather discussed to answer the most important questions in order to fulfil the story.
Now, In our case the team allows the PO to explain the story in 2 sentences. The Scrum Master facilitates only 3 questions and then the team estimates. Teams focus more on the bigger picture and help other people understand the open questions. Achieving a certain velocity in the end is not the goal of a sprint planning – it is it’s result.

I am not in Software – should we estimate?

Working in teams and doing teamwork are two different parts of the same medal. It probably makes less sense to estimate in a team, where everybody has specific responsibilities. A designer in a Marketing team would probably not understand enough analytics to estimate Adwords analyst’s work. If there is a chance of highly integrated teamwork and the work is also creative, an estimation session might be helpful to effectively align the whole team back to the same shared vision of the project.

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