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Task Estimates Are Becoming an Anti-pattern

Stay away from estimates of hours

10 August 2017

Anurag Prakash
Blue Cross Blue Shield

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Good things are not always used in the right way. Science, charity, information — they can all be used in good or potentially bad ways. We are seeing some of that in Scrum. In many cases, Agile concepts are being used in counterproductive ways. It is not rare to find cases where Agile is interpreted to be an “IT only process”. The ecosystem does not change. Agile values such as empowerment, technical excellence, and collaboration lose their importance.

If companies want their money’s worth from an Agile transformations, they need put in a true Agile champion in a position of influence. Agile is not designed to make things look good while maintaining existing structures. The Agile Manifesto was supposed to be disruptive. Use of a tool without the knowledge of what its intended for can very often lead to disaster. Tasking is one such tool.

Let’s stop estimating tasks

Interpretations of tasks (tasking of stories) seem to be getting more counterproductive every day. Ron Jeffries, for example, seems to be unhappy about what happened to story points. I think they are potentially the quickest way to roll back Agility. In an earlier article, I pointed out a simple rule of thumb. All metrics that originate within the sprint are for team internal use only. Incorrect use of tasking tool seems to be getting more popular by the day. I would recommend:
  • Break down story into tasks until it helps you plan out the tactical activities in the sprint
  • Do not estimate tasks (doesn’t not buy us much, but has downsides)
  • Retrospect on if the task helped, or should a different tasking method be used

Perhaps we can stop tasking in the future?

As the team matures it knows its product better and better. As the team becomes better, they can hopefully get through the sprint without tasking (or maybe use informal tasking). The only tasks the team should then have are occasional Spikes The goal is to:
  • Continuously improve and get better with story point estimates
  • Make sprints more predictable and so more plannable
  • Use Scrum to plan more effectively and not to account for who spent time where

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.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (5 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 8/25/2017 2:51:03 PM
Completely agree on the futility of estimating tasks, but I do see value in a team defining the tasks for a PBI, as that usually helps them with story understanding and relative estimation.

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