Posted on: January 28th, 2011 by jsolutions No Comments

I recently posted about Estimating in Scrum and why time based estimating can be problematic and why a focus on the team enables estimation and velocity to be more than just a measure of effort.

However, we have some very different teams trying to use Scrum here at cmgroup, where the assumptions made in that post only partially apply, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences and thoughts on how to manage estimating. As with all Scrum projects, we are in a constant state of inspect and adapt, so these thoughts are based on my understanding on the date of the post and may change over time. We are constantly looking to improve the team’s ability to deliver business value in a predictable and incremental manner in a way that can cope with the shifting priorities of the business.

It is also worth mentioning that these teams are small, so the impact of resourcing changes have a significant impact on Velcoity and make planning a challenge.

Team A – Desktop Product Team

This team is responsible for the development of a desktop product, currently consists of 2 dedicated  developers and 1 non-dedicated tester. By dedicated I obviously mean resource wise, not motivation wise :) There is a strong sense of ‘team’ in Team A, despite some remote working going on, so the following assumptions hold true:

  1. The team can estimate well in a relative manner and come to a consensus on the point value of a story.
  2. The team can organise itself well to manage the sprint backlog and work together, help each other etc.
  3. There is a strong sense of the team committing to a sprint, rather than individuals.

Therefore, a consensus based estimation as outlined in my previous post seems to be working quite well and the last 3 sprints (out of a total of 4) velocity have been consistent, with expectation of an increase in velocity becoming apparent over time.

There is lots of room for improvement in this team, particularly in terms of backlog management and definition of done / feature completion, but we’re getting there and its all smiles: Scrum looks like it is working.

Team B – Service Development Team

This team is very different. It currently has 3 developers, 2 of whom are not dedicated and again one non dedicated tester. As the product is made up of a large collection of deployable components, the responsibility for an individual component usually rests on the shoulders of an individual developer. The sense of ‘team’ is less than that of Team A. This is the nature of the product and not a reflection of the teams ability to work as a team. The team is also distibuted around the UK and physically meet up Monday mornings for sprint planning.

The team also has a backlog that is proving difficult to estimate as the features are more Epics than Stories. This is being addresses by the PO. However, questions are being raised as to how to ‘do Architecture’ with Scrum. This is a subject outside the scope of this post, hoepfully I can come back to it later.

We therefore find that the assumptions that hold true for team A do not hold true for team B and it is questionable whether estimation should be a consensus, when the commitment to deliver a Story is placed on an individual.

So how do we go about estimating these stories?

What we are trying to achieve with estimates

So back to basics, what are estimates in Scrum trying to achieve.

  1. Relative effort required to complete a story can be calculated.
  2. Velocity of development can be measured
  3. Based on velocity, resource capacity and backlog size, roadmaps can be managed
  4. Product release can be managed

Ultimately we are trying to achieve the predictable release of the product, by managing our expectation that is based on velocity and the relative size of features.

In Team A, the estimates and velocity are related to the team and it all works (more or less) very nicely, but here is where we come up against our first problem in Team B. Stories are not ‘owned’ by the team but ‘owned’ by an individual. We have to look at a way of measuring velocity and estimating that recognises the way the product is developed:

Backlog Management

The backlog needs estimating, we have decided not to use a consensus, but rather the assigned developer will estimate it. Therefore when we estimate the backlog, we assign a developer to that Story and take their estimate, along with the testers estimate. Our backlog could then become partitioned into ‘Developer Backlogs’ – TFS helps us manage this quite nicely. If a Story is moved from one developer to another, then it is re-estimated. This may throw our Release burndown, but then you would want it to, as the developer change may imply that it will take a different length of time to deliver. The individual developer can then estimate relatively to their own set of stories.

Velocity

The velocity of each individual developer then needs to be measured AND NOT COMPARED TO EACH OTHER. From this a Developer burndown can be produced giving the PO an idea as to when the individual backlogs will be complete.

As the product progresses and stories shift developer, it makes the task of managing release a little more complicated as the Product Backlog (the complete backlog) will only be complete when the last developer has completed their backlog. I would expect that this may necessitate shifting stories between developers as mentioned above.

Dangers

The dangers of doing this way is that the team is not accountable as a team, but rather as individuals, which can of course cause all kinds of problems between them. For example, as stated above, an individual’s velocity should not be measured against another’s. It becomes even more important to not estimate in time as a result as there could be all kinds of conclusions drawn on developers relative velocity that would not be helpful for both the individual and the product.

Summary

In the real world, teams are never ideal teams. There is often resource that is non dedicated, and teams often work with a specific responsibility for a product component. All of this makes for a scenario where Scrum has to be adapted to perform in a way to meet the goals it intends to achieve. With a bit of thought this is possible, but not without its dangers. Managing the Product Backlog as a set of Developer Backlogs may be a way forward and only time will tell.

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