Is It Bigger than a Breadbox? Getting Started with Release Estimation

Andy Berner is a Senior Software Engineer for QSM Inc. Andy is an experienced software architect with over 30 years of experience in all aspects of software development.

It’s becoming clear to organizations adopting agile methods that one still needs to estimate how long a project or a release of a product will take. It won’t suffice for businesses to simply take guesses or accept unreasonable constraints--we must be able to derive credible estimates based on a history of similar projects. But how can we estimate a project in advance while still maintaining the ability to manage the backlog in an agile manner?

In this article, we’ll answer that question, compare release-level estimation to the techniques used for iteration estimation, and give some pointers on getting started with release estimation in an agile environment.

If the Release Backlog will change, how can I estimate in advance?
Arguably the biggest benefit of agile methods is right in the name: Agile teams can respond quickly to changing priorities and conditions. But if our backlog--an organized list of project requirements to achieve a successful final product--changes throughout the course of our release, does it still help to estimate based on what we know in advance? Absolutely.

We can estimate in advance because it isn’t necessary to know all the details of our backlog in order to develop an accurate prediction. The major driver for a release estimate is the overall size of the release, not the individual items on the backlog. Let&rsquo…

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- Ralph Waldo Emerson