Estimation Process

Software estimates are used to inform project management and product decisions so that business targets can be met.

Based on estimates, we decide which features to implement and how, and the assignment of tasks to sprints.

Estimates come with assumptions and uncertainty

Estimates are inaccurate by definition.

Estimates get more accurate as more information about the project becomes known. For example, an estimation at the initial concept stage will be less accurate than an estimation after all requirements are known, which will be less accurate than an estimation after design is complete, etc.

To clarify this inaccuracy, we can list the assumptions of an estimate below the estimate. These assumptions translate to risks - because if they turn out to be incorrect, then they will add more time to the task.

It’s also possible to provide confidence intervals around an estimation to quantify the uncertainty. For example, a development task could be estimated to take 30 hours expected, +20 hours worst case, -5 hours best case. However even then, how often do we expect that actual time will come in longer than “worst case?”

Story points estimates

We accept that accurate estimation is hard, for multiple reasons, so instead adopt the “just in time” planning technique from XP.

This uses unitless “story points” for estimation of each ticket. Possible story point values are on the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

The idea is that these point values represent task size in an abstract way. An estimate in time for a task can be calculated from the estimate in story points divided by the project velocity, adjusted according to staff availability, other factors, etc.

The decision on whether a task is included in the next sprint is based on its points estimate and the project velocity.

This approach is clearly a gross simplification of reality, and so we need to be very careful not to produce garbage estimates.


> 13This ticket needs to be split up further.

Each Task ticket has an estimate

We assign an estimation to every single task ticket. If there’s no estimate, then it can’t be added to the sprint.

Ticket must be ready to estimate before estimation

If there is not enough information about a task ticket, then the estimation will be rubbish. So before estimation starts we need:

  • The Task ticket is linked to a User Story ticket.
  • The ticket description contains adequate information about what is expected to be done.
  • The ticket includes acceptance criteria.
  • The ticket is sufficiently small to estimate.
  • Task dependencies are defined with jira issue links.

Team Estimation

Story point estimations are done by the development team together in the sprint planning meeting.

We use the Pointing Poker tool to facilitate estimation sessions.

The team should agree on a single number. If they don’t then someone is missing some information about the task.

This practice lets us share knowledge about tasks.

Implicit acceptance criteria

Every development task is subject to the Definition of “Done”.

So development tasks such as testing, documentation, review, etc, must be included as part of the estimate.

These tasks are implied, and needn’t be listed under the A/C of every single task ticket. However, if for example testing alone is going to be a large amount of work, then that task can be split out from the main task and linked.

Link typeMeaning of A links B
blocksIssue A must be done issue B can start.
requiresIssue B must be done before issue A can be done.
implementsTask A implements User Story B.
duplicatesIssue A is the same as issue B, and should be closed.

Non-essential informational relations

Link typeMeaning of A links B
relates toA non-specific linking of issues.
causesImplementation of task A resulted in Bug B.
mitigatesImplementation of task A will reduce effects of Bug B.

Subtask relations

We have found that Jira subtasks aren’t especially useful. They just make things confusing, so avoid using them.

Updating estimations

By rights, the estimation of a ticket should not change once the sprint has started.

If the ticket actually took twice as long as the points estimate suggested, then the team velocity will decrease. The idea is that in theory the velocity figure records under-estimation tendencies of the team, so that future sprints may be better planned.

TODO: Put remaining time on ticket

  • Write process for updating tickets with “remaining time” value.
Links to this page
#needs/review #needs/expansion