The right attitude towards Agile estimates/ forecasts & what playing golf has to do with it.

27 Feb, 2016
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golf_goagileSetting realistic targets help scrum teams to manage expectations better.Thinking in target ranges, instead of just one precise target is the trick. Learn which attitude it takes to deal with target forecasts successfully. Take your club and join me at hole 6….

Tee-Off Hole 6

The thing about golf is that somehow deep in my heart I want to hit this small golf ball as perfect as possible. Do not ask me why –  it is just in me. I would like to hit it like Tiger Woods. As close to the flag as possible.  A hole in one? Yes, that would be just right!

An Agile team aims for the flag as well

How does this relate to the estimates and forecasts of Agile teams? A lot! Because when a team starts with a sprint they are aiming for the target as well.
In Agile, we call this estimated velocity = a forecast of how many requirements (user stories) a team will make in a time box (sprint) of 2-4 weeks; estimated in story points. This estimate comes from the team and is a result of the sprint planning meeting. And as myself, standing there at the tee box of hole 6, there is a natural inner drive of a Scrum team to reach this target as good as possible.

How team members can react when they miss the flag

we failed
Not meeting the estimated forecast of a sprint can create stress and demotivation for team members. Especially when team members think in terms of failing/ winning: “We did not meet the target, so we failed!”.
As Scrum is so transparent to the outside world they might also think: "What will my manager, co-worker….(whoever) think/say of this ‘failure’?"
Returning to golf- this compares to standing at the tee-off box with the golf club in your hand and thinking: “I HAVE to have THE perfect shot NOW! Otherwise I FAIL (again)! What will <whoever > think if I miss this ball"?

Do you feel the tension and pressure?

The mindset and attitude towards the expectations of forecasts can therefore have a big impact on the motivation and the behavior of scrum team members.

Always have realistic expectations

That is why I always tell my agile teams to have the right and REALISTIC expectations towards estimates. So instead, this is what the team members should think when they stand at the tee-off of hole 6 with the club in their hand:
golf velocity range

  • The estimated velocity is never just only the flag- it is a realistic target range where the ball will somewhere land. There is an OK chance that the ball will land somewhere there.
  • As beginners we do not know our range yet. It takes in average at least 3 sprints/shots to now the first rough target range.
  • The target range depends on the experience level. As beginners we know that this range is much wider than for an experienced pro like Tiger Woods.

Forecast target range

  • If we focus on the shot and do our best, we have the good chance to make a very good shot.
  • If we have a bad shot, this can happen as well. We are not surprised then. We will then identify the “disturbances” of this shot, will learn from it and try to make it better next time.
  • The more golf shots (sprints) we do, the more we practice, the better we get in knowing our target range. This does not mean that we still can have a bad ball here and there. Even pros like Tiger Woods have this!

The effect of this way of thinking:

  • A more realistic attitude towards estimates.
  • A more relaxed way of thinking towards bad balls/failures.

What is your experience with estimates in Agile teams? What worked well, what did not work in the end?

Jens Broetzmann
Jens is Agile coach and since 15 years involved in software implementation projects. Besides improving the IT value chain he likes to organise and facilitate Design Thinking Workshops with customers to find innovative meaningful solutions for the end users. He is a big fan of the Lean Start-up and Running Lean philosophy and his mission is to define and implement products which add real value for the end-users. Jens is German and speaks fluently Dutch and English.

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