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Agile estimation is not waste per se

So you are not going to do estimations as they are a waste?

Great! How are you going to create a common understanding of what you need to deliver as a team?

You’ll probably pick a feature and discuss it in your team right? Discover what it is that needs to be build, discuss development approach, tasks and so on. The time it takes to do this depends on the story a hand. After you have had this planning discussion you’ll have a common understanding. Then you’ll discuss the next feature and so on. After your team has build up a common understanding of a feature and a plan for delivering it they also have a good idea of how much work it will be. So the team is able to give a estimation pretty fast (within 1 minute) as all the work needed for estimation is already done. Even if the estimate is completely wrong the so-called waste is almost zero!

Ok, what if you have a big list of features? then estimation of the whole list upfront is a waste? what if I have a list of work that is more or less equally sized?
Ok… but how did you get such a list? Don’t tell me you had to break it down into equally sized parts!

Lets take a look at waste.

  • Type I muda is necessary waste, it is something that does not add value for the customer. The way of working of the business needs to change in order to eliminate this type of waste.
  • Type 2 muda is unnecessary waste. Non value added tasks that can eliminated directly without any change.

Ok. So who is the customer in Lean?

Maybe the most important part of lean is called Respect for People.
The end customer is the most important customer but not the only one. Everybody that receives work in a value stream is a customer to the ones who deliver. Respect for people in this context also means that you offer your work in such a way that the receiver can handle it in the best way.
So e.g. Product owners, shareholders, management and so on are all customers in the lean context. The product owner is offered easy and clear indicators of progress and estimated work remaining; operations is offered a clean and high quality product; management is offered clear and honest information on costs, opportunities and risks.

So the question becomes: Does estimation not add value for any customer?

Example: You have projects in your portfolio and you have to choose which one to do? How are you going to choose?
You could take into account things like estimated added value, estimated risk, estimated duration, estimated costs etc.

Should we estimate a whole big release backlog? of-course you should as long as there is someone who needs a number to make valuable decisions. Just make sure it does not take you to long! Give input to make the budgeting decisions and then concentrate on improving your estimates and plans as you make real progress.

So if estimation adds value to workplace customers is it still a waste?
Only if you change the business in such a way that it does not need estimations anymore then estimation becomes a waste!

So in summary

  • Estimation is a waste only in certain contexts.
  • If you work as a team and plan your iterations you probably already did al the work needed to give an estimate anyway.
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