“Agile development won’t work at Yahoo! except maybe on small tactical projects, because teams don’t do any planning and team members can’t estimate their own work. They need to be told what to do.”

This is a real quote and something I’ve heard more than once since I began guiding the rollout of agile at Yahoo! People who don’t understand the concepts of agile development think that it’s simply a case of eliminating all documentation and planning, giving teams a license to hack. The reality could not be further from the truth.

“Teams don’t do any planning.” Those who say this forget that an agile team spends half a day every other week coming up with a list of tasks they’ll perform in order to deliver some user-valued functionality at the end of the two weeks. That teams spread planning out across a project, rather than doing it all up front, is seen as a lack of planning. It’s not, and agile teams at Yahoo! are creating products that please our product managers far more than traditional teams ever did.

“Team members can’t estimate their own work and need to be told what to do.” This is a classic misperception. Giving a product or project manager sage-like qualities to be able to foresee what others, who are experts in their own work, can really deliver is business suicide. Often this approach is really a way of saying yes to the business when asked to deliver on unrealistic goals. Team members are then forced to work around the clock and cut corners. And we wonder why people are burnt out and morale is so low in our industry.

Estimating and planning are among the topics I get the most questions about, especially from new teams. Having a simple approach to planning, not only for an iteration but for an entire project is invaluable. Product managers have to be concerned with meeting revenue goals and having a predictable release plan. Teams can still be flexible and change course as desired, but it’s important to have a roadmap to follow. It’s not enough to go fast if you are heading in the wrong direction. Learning how to estimate and plan are some of the most important ingredients for success if you hope to successfully implement agile in your organization.

Mike’s estimating and planning class is the most popular of the agile classes we run at Yahoo! It gives teams the skills and tools they need to do just the right amount of planning to optimize results. If you follow Mike’s advice, does it really work? Yes. The success of agile in Yahoo! has been incredible. I’ve had teams return from Mike’s class and immediately put his advice into action. We are getting products to market faster and teams genuinely love the agile approach.

Why are agile estimating and planning methods more effective than traditional methods? They concentrate on delivering value and establishing trust between the business and the project teams. Keeping everything highly transparent, and letting the business know of any changes as they come up, means that the business can adapt quickly to make the best decisions. At my last company I saw us go from a state of permanent chaos, where we had an extremely ambitious roadmap but couldn’t deliver products, to a predictable state where we could genuinely sign up for projects that we could deliver. The business said they might not always like the answers (they always want things tomorrow, after all), but at least they believed our answers and were not frustrated from feeling that they were being consistently lied to.

This books keeps it real. It doesn’t tell you how to become 100% accurate with your estimates. That would be a waste of effort and impossible to achieve. Mike’s book doesn’t attempt to give you pretty templates to be filled out, instead he makes you think and learn how to approach and solve problems. No project, product, or organization is the same, so learning the thinking and principles are far more important. Mike brings his vast real-world experiences and personality to life in this book. It’s real and it’s honest. This book definitely belongs at the top of your reading list.

Gabrielle Benefield
Director, Agile Product Development

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