#NoEstimates motivations

I thought it would to be interesting to discuss the motivations behind No Estimates rather than the argument as to whether they are required or not. The motivations due go some insight into why they are being provided as an option after all. As I see it there seem to be three primary motivations behind No Estimates:

We don’t want to be wrong

IT professionals are first and foremost caring people who honestly don’t want to let people down and have to inform them that they were mistaken. In this case, it is much easier to not have to give them an estimates which we know is probably wrong. No one ever likes to have the meetings where we need to request weeks of additional effort and thousands of additional budget. The business may think that IT doesn’t care as the dollars are not from the IT budget, but IT really does take these overages seriously and hate to make these requests.

We feel that estimating itself is a waste of time and effort

We also have been on projects where estimating has gone horribly wrong and estimates were way too detailed. Excessive time was spent on estimates in the thought that additional analysis would result in more detailed estimates and a better project plan. IT has learned that estimates should be less detailed, but still those memories seem hard to forget.

We feel bad estimates will led to bad projects and poor quality

Finally, we feel that once given, estimates will be imprinted on the clients and everything else will be sacrificed in order to abide by the estimates. Weekends, personal time, quality, documentation, everything will be sacrificed so we can meet the vastly inaccurate estimate provided at the start of the project when we knew so little.

Let us agree

So let us first agree that all these reasons are valid and noble reasons. We may disagree whether Estimates are valid, but I doubt believe there can be any disagreement that the motivations behind the No Estimate movement are true and valid.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

2 thoughts on “#NoEstimates motivations”

  1. Let’s say for the moment these are valid “motivations” as you suggest. They are also “symptoms” of bad management, lack of or misunderstanding of the business processes needed to make decisions in the presence of uncertainty, and other “symptoms”.
    Is Not Estimating the fix for root cause of these symptoms? That seems to be the suggestions of the #NoEstimates advocates.
    They are treating the symptom not the cause. The cause is Bad Management.
    It’s not clear how you can disagree “estimates are valid” without rejecting the microeconomics of decision making and the managerial finance principles that come with it when spending other peoples money.
    That’s the bigger issue with No Estimates, it is not based on any principles found in business where there is a non-trivial “value at risk” in the presence of uncertainty.
    This “treating the symptom not the cause” goes back to Woody Zuill’s Day One conjecture and has not been addressed as the fatal flaw of the argument since then.


  2. Interesting post, Terry.

    Unfortunately, just about any movement, good or bad, tends to have “valid and noble reasons” claimed for it. That applies to everything from (say) fraternities in colleges to dictatorships in third-world countries. But anyone who takes the time to scrutinize a new fad movement often comes to realize that
    – sometimes the stated, ostensible, “noble” motivations for it aren’t necessarily the main ones, or certainly the only ones;
    – and at the uglier end of the spectrum, the claimed “valid and noble” motivations are possibly being used manipulatively to justify all sorts of behaviors.

    So saying “there can be no disagreement that the motivations behind the NE movement are true and valid”? Of course there can be such disagreement, and here goes. Most especially, there are other clear aspects of NE that become evident upon scrutiny, and give justifiable cause to make one wonder if the motivations behind it are “true and valid”. They’re evinced in such NE traits as:
    – refusal to discuss pros and cons with critics
    – fingers-in-ears blocking of any vocal and persistent disagreement
    – open declarations that critics should not post on the NE hashtag at all
    – a clear tendency to name-call when people disagree with NE, even to the point of launching automated bots to denigrate such critics
    – frequent expressions of contempt for management in general.

    In the very first exchange that I ever had, three years ago, with one of the “big three” proponents of NoEstimates, he actually declared that my views showed that I “represent much that is wrong with our industry.” This was in the very first exchange! There’s way more going on with NE motivations, obviously, than having “valid and noble” reasons for opposing estimates.

    #NoEstimates is an extreme “them against us” overreaction that seems to be based largely on experiences of estimates abuse by management (hence providing the motivation behind their resorting so quickly to name-calling and their expressions of contempt toward management). But basing opposition to a tool on instances of that tool’s outright abuse makes little sense. When seeing abuse of something, a more appropriate reaction is to focus on reducing or eliminating the *abuse*, not eliminating the very thing itself.

    Basic examples:
    – Dieting is great, unless it reaches the point of anorexia. Food isn’t the enemy.
    – Saving money is great, unless you become so miserly that you’re feeding your family saltines for dinner. Spending money isn’t the enemy.
    – Estimates are great, until they’re abused. Estimates themselves are not the enemy.

    Bottom line: pushing discussion towards what I see as illusory “true and valid motivations” behind NE tends to miss what’s really, chronically going on every day on the hashtag: long-term, outright abusive, bullying behavior towards people vocalizing their disagreement with NE. And that behavior gets no mention from NE advocates; those that don’t actually participate in such tweets themselves often “like” them, retweet them, and of course don’t express actual disapproval of the behavior.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: