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Alterations and Fluctuations: Helping You Navigate the Time Estimation Dilemma

CmerrillZibtek
・3 min read

In Agile software development, estimation is about calculating how much time and effort a team can realistically commit to any given backlog item to facilitate sprint planning. It would be nice, of course, if identical tasks came with fixed time estimates. In reality, unforeseen bugs, breakdowns, and modifications make estimation incredibly challenging.

From project cost estimations to launch date, estimations are part of the daily grind of software development. A pragmatic approach to the process improves estimation accuracy and keeps a project on time and budget.

A Practical Approach to Time Estimation

Many engineers say they find deadlines restrictive to the coding process. It comes as no surprise, though, that product owners want predictable timelines and a firm project end date. Mishandled, this disparity can result in a lack of trust in the process and put enormous stress on the partnership. Finding common ground is tricky, but it can be done.

By definition, Agile projects live and die by their ability to be efficient. A practical approach to estimation allows teams to deliver the best possible product in the shortest amount of time by building in quality triggers that result in less rework and few bugs as a project moves forward.

Factoring in Alterations and Fluctuations

In explaining the Practical Agile approach, we often use a math-based analogy. Nearly everyone recalls that multiplying length by width gets you the area of a square. But what if you were asked to determine the area of an irregular shape, like a puddle? Now we’re talking calculus integrals, which most people happily forget about once the course is complete.

Estimating software development timelines is more like calculus than it is basic math. It requires a few more steps and a little more in-depth analysis. Twists and turns like new designs, changing business requirements, unexpected dilemmas, and fresh ideas regularly complicate the process. Degree of difficulty aside, a client relies on the software development company to plan for surprises and possible delays and give them accurate timelines for their project.

Architectural planning, exploring different scenarios, shifting left, and getting all Quality Assurance people involved are just some of the tactics used in a practical Agile approach. Factoring in small, digestible features or story points bolsters short-term planning and gives teams an idea of how much work is too much work.

Within the user stories, you can then create detailed acceptance criteria for each feature. Every scenario is defined and considered, bringing into focus any obstacles or hurdles you might encounter during the development process. These detailed user stories ensure estimations and timelines are accurate and make it easier to predict with certainty what work will get done within a given timeframe.

Let’s Be Practical

Time estimating in software development will always be a challenge. A practical Agile approach to estimation helps meet the Agile Manifesto’s principle of responding to change over following a plan. Does that mean eliminating planning altogether? Not at all. It means creating a plan that recognizes alterations and fluctuations are an inevitable part of the process.

When it comes to estimations, the goal is to be able to confidently say to a client, “I believe we can get that task done in a week, but we’ll know better once we begin.” This realistic, straightforward approach builds trust and delivers the best and most reliable software development experience possible.

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