A way to determine if a story is small enough without estimating it.
“No Estimates” is a modern movement in software development that focuses on eliminating wasteful estimates. However how do you know if a story is small enough to be accomplished without estimating its size? There are a series of rules that when followed guarantees a bite size bit of work.
“No Estimates” is built on continuous delivery of valuable product. That means that the business must be able to measure the output of a development team in near real time. That means that if releases are regularly weeks or months away then you leave the business with few tools. That means stories need to be small enough to complete daily.
How do guarantee that the average story is small enough to be completed in a day without estimating?
There are three rules that can be followed to assure that a story is as small as possible. In all three rules, the word team means much more then the development team. It means, the whole project team. This includes the developers, the product owners, testers, management, executive management and anyone else who has stakes in the product being delivered.
- Does everyone on the team have the same understanding of what the story delivers, and what need it addresses?
- Does everyone on the team have the same understanding of when the story is completed?
- Is the story free of any known preconditions?
Gaining understanding about a story that crosses skill and role boundaries is difficult. To better communicate intention, we must be communicating simpler ideas. The first two rules do a lot to limit the size and scope of a story.
The first two rules also ensure that the right thing is done. A shared understanding means a shared vision and shared responsibility. If we understand what is to be done, and when it is done then we do not mistakenly build the wrong thing.
Once everyone understands what is to be done, and when it can be considered complete then we have a certain level of understanding about the story. If at that time anyone can think of a precondition that must be done before the story is complete, then the story is too big to be worked on. Maybe it is time to work on the precondition, or something else entirely.
The operative word in the last rule is “known”. We could spend an infinite amount of time looking for and understanding preconditions. It also goes without saying that we may find new preconditions as we start working. The important thing is that no preconditions are discovered in the process of gaining group understanding.
During the doing of the work, if we do discover a precondition we then need to decide: do we continue, or do we abandon the current story? Most often we can continue, especially if the precondition that was discovered meets the 3 rules. Which means we must communicate our progress effectively.
In short, by following the three rules we can ensure work is taken in bite size chunks, even without estimating.