Project Management

3 Questions to Ask Before Estimating an Agile Program

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, 2nd edition, Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization as well as several other books including the newest: Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver. See her blogs and more of her writing at

Many organizations want to see an estimate for your program (a collection of projects with one business deliverable) before they fund it. So, the teams might spend significant time estimating everything the product owners and managers hope will be in the product from today’s perspective.

Or, you might try a “sprint zero” to understand the current set of requirements and the architecture. You get partway through the program and either the requirements change, the teams realize the architecture changes or you realize you mis-estimated. Whatever the problem, the estimate no longer works. Yet, your management wants you still to deliver the program “as promised.”

Before you estimate, consider these three questions and what they might buy you:

  1. How much would you like to invest in time, money, or learning before we stop?
  2. Are you ready to watch the program grow as we build it so you can stop us when you don't want to invest anymore?
  3. What is the value of this project or program to you?

How much would you like to invest?
Bruce is a program manager in an organization starting with agile approaches. It has done fairly well with single-team projects. Now, it has an idea for a significant program (15 feature teams and people across sales, marketing and training). It needs an agile program.

Bruce met with the operations committee, …

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