Project Management

3 Agile Estimation Alternatives

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

Does your team spend significant time estimating stories with story points? Or, does your team try to manage its estimates with support or other interruptions?

Velocity via story point estimation works in very few teams. Instead of story points, consider these other alternatives for your agile estimates.

Can you make velocity work for your team?
Gina’s team struggled with its velocity for the last few iterations. That’s when it started to work on a new product, Acme.

Acme was more complex than the team’s previous product. And, the previous Acme team—for a variety of reasons—hadn’t left full unit tests or system tests. Every time Gina’s team tried to add a feature or fix a problem, the team uncovered more problems.

The Acme team had two problems: essential complication and accidental complication.

  • Essential complication refers to the difficulty of the problems the team needs to solve. If your team needs more time to solve the problems itself, the essential complication is probably higher than the problems the team solved before.
  • We can’t do much about essential complication. However, we can address accidental complication—the shortcuts we took before that come home and slow the team now. For example, we might choose to take on technical debt. The longer we leave that debt, the more accidental complication…

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