Apparently the word ‘estimates’ is not clear. Here’s what I mean and don’t mean.

When I refer to “story estimation”, I mean the practice of asking the team to estimate each story, either in terms of how long it will take, or some direct analogue to how long it will take, such as story points, or t-shirt sizes. The idea with story estimation is that you figure out, somehow, how “big” each story is, which you can use to figure out how long each story will take, then add them up and that’s how many you can do in an iteration.

That’s what I mean by “story estimation”.

We’re not talking about looking at the backlog and saying “OK, well, I think we can do about six of those babies”. Yeah, sure, that’s an estimate of how many stories you can do. It’s not story estimation. Story estimation, listen up I’m talking to you, means assigning numeric or symbolic values to each story, saying how big each one is.

We are not, repeat not, talking about your fascinating theory that any behavior whatsoever, such as walking and chewing gum, can only be accomplished through something that you and some guy you met at a bar agreed was a kind of estimation. That’s not story estimation, which means putting a number on each story, and does not mean trying to walk around the bar without tipping over.

Nor, in particular, are we calling the act of counting things estimation. If your ability to count is extremely limited, such as “well, there’s a lotta doggone numbers on the front of my phone”, I can see why you might want to call that estimation, but no, counting is not estimation in these parts.

When you read what I write about story estimation, please keep these notes in mind. Fascinating though it is, when talking about story estimation I am not interested in your quaint and curious notions of estimation which prove your point by asserting that when a ball falls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, gravity estimates how fast it should go on the way down. Nor am I interested in your tantalizing theory that birds find their way south by estimating how far north they are and flying about until their estimates improve.

It is possible to do without story estimates, and yet to know a great deal about when we’ll be done. We can’t know everything perfectly without story estimates. Nor can we know everything perfectly with them. That being the case, it may be worth our while to think about not using them. If you don’t want to think about that, that’s OK too. Just be clear that you’ve made a choice, not proven that other people can’t do it.

Do continue to estimate how far you can walk without running into the wall, and be sure to report your estimates and actuals at the next meeting.

Thank you.