Uncharted Waters

January 8, 2014  12:29 PM


Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

If you want to start a fight on my team, bring up estimates. Just the idea of estimates is a “hot button issue”, and I don’t think it’s just my team.

On any given team, the technical staff are likely sensitive about how their estimates will be used. They have reason to be sensitive; there is a system-wide cultural misuse and misunderstanding around the concept. Woody Zuill is trying to reframe the estimates discussion around the idea of starting and completing small pieces of work, and not estimating at all. You can follow that by looking at the #NoEstimates hashtag on twitter. Matt Heusser, the lead contributor to this blog, did some investigation and wrote an article recently for CIO.com about transitioning from traditional planning and estimating to, well … not.

Let’s consider another case: What if the act of estimating tasks actually has value?

If you are willing to grant that, then we can explore ways estimation might be a useful exercise for you.


(kanban board: how much work goes here sometimes depends on your estimates)

My ideas on estimates:

Estimates can be used for all kinds of things: accounting and billing, planning what can be completed in a sprint, and, yes, as a whip to punish people who can not comple work they have “committed” to complete. I’d be willing to bet you’ve experienced each of those at some point in your tech career. One thing I think we ignore though, is the way group estimates can take the ideas (and variances!) in our head and bring them out to the table where we can talk about them for real. That’s a meaningful benefit. Since estimates aren’t going away anytime soon for most people in software, that’s what I’d like to focus on: The benefits.

Consider this:

Pretend you’re in a meeting to plan a some work for the next two weeks. (If you are a scrum-er, this is “grooming the backlog for the next sprint.”) You all talk about a feature for a bit, what this thing should do, how users might benefit from it, and think you understand it pretty well. At least to the extent that you can start to make some guesses about how complex you think the work to build this feature is.

This conversation takes place:

PM: Alright, does everyone think they understand this enough to make an estimate?

Clarie: Sure

Matt: OK

Michael: Yup

PM: OK then, lets do this in t-shirt sizes. 1…2….3….go!

Matt: Large

Clarie: Small

Michael: Large

I think this difference is really important and is something the no estimates community doesn’t talk about enough. Sometimes estimation differences means people have different skills on the technology, the code base, or even a different understanding of the problem to be solves. Sometimes they are a lesson in disguise. As a general rule, if your technical staff have wildly varying opinions on how long something will take, then something might be going on there worth talking about. This might not tell you where to look or immediately solve a problem, but it sure seems like a good start.

This difference in estimates can be a clue that people have different understandings about what they need to work on. Maybe there is a complete misunderstanding about what is being built, maybe someone knows about available libraries or utilities that you don’t know about, or maybe some aspect of this widget has already been written by another group in your company. Without that estimate you may have never had that conversation. The group could have had the story grooming session then gone off happily and started working only to realize later that these misunderstandings existed. What a shame that would be!

What you can do tomorrow:

Don’t stop estimating, rather reframe how you think about this tool. Start thinking of estimates as a tool that can help groups of people reduce ambiguity and gain clarity on a topic. Don’t worry so much about being victimized by a process.

I mean, sure, we could point out the process is broken. But has that ever helped anyone?

Focus on the good, and there’s a chance things might get better.

The choice is yours.

January 1, 2014  8:00 AM

2013 in Review … 2014 Preview!

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

2013 / 2014It’s about that time for people to look back on the year. While it has been a fantastic year for me, this blog isn’t about me as much as it is about you — or, at least, it is about possibilities for you. Every week or two I post an idea, a tip, a lesson, and interview, that I hope will have some value for you.

Today, I’d like to review the five most popular posts I made in 2013, just in case you missed them, and introduce the big new shakeup that is coming in January, 2014.

Continued »

December 23, 2013  4:21 PM

The Nightlife at Agile Testing Days

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Agile Testing Day LogoGetting to a conference in Europe can be intimidating, so last month I published  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Agile Testing Days. It’s a good post about getting to Germany and things to do outside the conference center.

There is another part of the conference though, something folks rarely talk about: What do you do outside regular conference hours?

At some software conferences the answer is “go to Disney” or “Explore San Francisco.” At Agile Test Days, the conference has events scheduled from 5PM to … well … late. Here’s a few things to expect, and plan for, after hours at Agile Testing Days. Continued »

December 16, 2013  2:03 PM

On Office Politics

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Cubu Cover Text Last time I introduced Cubu, a game that appeared, on its surface, to be about pattern matching, but actually works on multiple levels.

I find that more than a little bit like office politics.

Even the ‘tag’ line of Cubu – “Where Visual Illusion Leads to Confusion” has a hidden meaning. Yes, the different colored rectangles can “throw you off”, but even worse than the rings is the chance to be focusing on the rings while your opponents are playing the meta-game.

Today I’ll explain the game of office politics — and one way to play. Continued »

December 13, 2013  1:03 PM

A Christmas Stocking Stuffer

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Picture of Cubu GamePicking Christmas gifts is, for me, not exactly the most pleasant time of the year.

First there is the procrastination, the putting off until tomorrow. Next comes the freak-out that tomorrow is actually here, the mad rush to get something, the vague feeling that it was the wrong thing, which sticks around until Christmas actually come …

Yeah. It’s kind of like that.

If Christmas shopping is for you anything like it is for me, well then, allow me to introduce a little card game you’ve never heard of: Cubu, and why your friends, family, spouse, and significant other are going to like it so much. Continued »

December 11, 2013  12:45 PM

An Estimation Trick

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

An Estimates Photo You know the signs. The project deliverables are vague; no one knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing. The hardware might not be on-site site yet — it might not be ordered. Perhaps there won’t be any hardware at all; instead, vague promises are made that Amazon’s EC2, or some other cloud, will make the hardware needs obsolete.

Somewhere in the back, someone is sighing and nodding their head, saying “This is never gonna work.”

You want to listen to that guy, you really do. Perhaps you are that guy … but the evidence against the status quo boils down to you saying “nu uh!”

Today I’ll introduce a way to move your case from “gut feeling” to reasonable argument that is based on a paper published in, believe it or not, the Harvard Business Review. Continued »

November 25, 2013  8:15 AM

A DevBootCamp Story

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

travis_klein1Most of us know the easy way to get a technical job — go to MIT, Carnegie Mellon, the University of California at Berkely (or failing that, the best school you can get into) and earn a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.

While that may be the way to get into Google or Microsoft, it also means you have to be at a certain privileged position, and make the right decision, about the age of 16, 17, 18, or 19.

After that, you may have a wife, a mortgage, children.

How do you get a programming job at 30?

Travis Klein may have a way. Continued »

November 13, 2013  12:18 PM

Ending Stack Ranking at Microsoft, Starting it at Yahoo

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.

– H.L. Melcken

It’s an interesting time in Silicon Valley. Microsoft, fresh off this summer’s reorganization, has ditched stack ranking, the controversial process by which all employees are rated, and the bottom fifth (or 10%, or some percentage) are ‘asked’ to leave the organization if they can not improve their scores. Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, Yahoo has picked it up.

First, let’s examine the practice.

Continued »

November 11, 2013  3:08 PM

The Joy Of Work?

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

The Cover of Joy Inc, by Richard Sheridan The Joy of Cooking is a book I’ve heard of. The Joy Of Sex? Sure. But the joy of work? That’s the kind of thing you’d expect to be the title of a Dilbert book.

Checking Amazon, I just found that “The Joy Of Work” actually is the title of a Dilbert book.

Then Richard Sheridan, the CEO of Menlo Innovations, comes along and writes “Joy Inc: How we Built a Workplace People Love.”

When I hear the title, I admit, I was skeptical. Then again, I’ve known Richard’s team for a long time. A few years ago I interviewed his team about the massive parallel interview practice they have, called an “Extreme Interview.” When I visited the office, there was a bassinet, used when new parents came back to work — and brought the baby.

So when I heard that Rich was putting a book out about his company’s vision to eliminate human suffering in the world as it relates to technology, well, I was at least going to invest a few hours in it.

Here’s what I found. Continued »

November 6, 2013  10:56 AM

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Agile Testing Days

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

National Lampoon's European Vacation Movie PosterIf you’ve ever thought about attending a conference in another country (or another continent!) you know that it’s kind of a big deal.

Sure, you can look at the program online, read blogs, or even check out the occasional real-time live blog, but you may find your questions unanswered:

What’s the best way to get to the hotel?
How do I ask for a menu?
Will everyone speak English?
Are there any tricks I should know? What will it be like?

Today’s blog post is all about answering those questions for Agile Testing Days – but really any conference held in the Dorint Hotel in Potsdam Germany. You’ll find the general travel tips may help for anyone from North America Travelling to Europe for the first time. Continued »

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