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Estimation Using Ideal Days

A Quick Guide for New Teams

27 March 2014

Mukesh Rao
Rao Nterprises Ltd

With a current engagement coming to its closure, I am absolutely delighted to share some of my experiences working with the government of Mongolia in upgrading its taxation administration system onto service-oriented architecture.

When I landed in snowy Ulan Bator, it took me no time to recognize the puzzled look on people's faces when I first mentioned the Scrum method. It was not a surprise that the team was used to traditional project management methods and that I would have to teach them to do things differently. In fact, my preference for a perfect beginning is such a "vanilla" team.

After introducing them to to Scrum, we split the 16-member team into teams of 9 and 7 people. We began with the prerequisites, including our Definition of Done. Once these were set, my challenge began with the first sprint, the estimation.

Instead of using the popular story point estimates, we began by using ideal days, as discussed by Mike Cohn in Agile Estimating and Planning. The team believed this method would be easier for them. Below are some of my observations about estimating with ideal days:
  1. This is helpful at the beginning when the team is new to Scrum. With maturity, the team can be transitioned to story points.
  2. Keep the project manager and other higher-ups informed that ideal days/time is time that is needed to accomplish the task in isolation. This is not always the reality, as a senior developer on a team might get involved in doing other things, such as helping other team members, conducting interviews, etc.
  3. Listen to expert opinion on estimation, but consider more closely the estimate made by the team. Otherwise the sense of the Agile team will disappear, and relying on the expert for almost everything will become the norm.
  4. Aggregate the ideal days/time to the user story rather than breaking it down into various role-based estimates, i.e., three UI developer days, one DB developer day, one tester day, etc.
  5. Share the estimates, as it happens that we are unlikely to know who specifically will perform the task.
  6. Have a plan to shift from ideal days to story points, educate the team on story point estimation, and move them toward it.
This guide that worked for me, and I hope it can act as a basis for you. It is important to remember that with new teams, especially when embarking on Scrum, it can be tough to get story point estimation going -- but, as the saying goes, "patience is a virtue."

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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