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Development Team Briefing and Collaboration

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Perhaps the main reason we were behind schedule and over budget was because budgets and schedules are based on previous experience with similar projects. We really didn't know how much it would cost to build or how long it would take. — Tom Kelly, Grumman, on building the lunar module for the Apollo program

Despite the adoption of agile philosophies, many product executives request detailed time estimates and costing at the feature level. As someone who has worked with product teams for decades, I can tell you time and cost estimates of features just aren’t reliable. What to do?

(Or, as we say in the consulting biz, “How’s that been working for you?”)

I mean, really, how accurate have your estimates ever been? Asking developers to provide scope and time estimates on individual items is like asking sales people to forecast specific deals and dollar amounts months in advance.

One of the key concepts of Lean is to avoid waste. Execs and product managers ask,” How long will this take?” and their team often replies, “We’ll have to completely specify the solution in order to give you an estimate.” Which is true. You can’t tell how long it will take until you know what “it” actually is.

Yet it’s downright silly to waste time developing a design specification just to get a time estimate. And honestly, requirements and product stories lack detail necessary to do a design.

What to do?

While estimating time and scope is difficult, ranking stories one against the other is fairly straightforward. A strawberry is smaller than an apple. And an apple is smaller than a watermelon.

Here are the “best practices” related to delivering features:

  • Allocate (or acquire) a product-specific development budget
  • Inspire the product team with business goals and objectives
  • Collaborate on the roadmap items and detailed product stories
  • Feed the team with “pull”
  • Formalize story acceptance
  • Separate release from launch
  • Perform periodic retrospectives

Good product managers inspire product teams; they don’t mandate deliverables.

I’ll be expanding on these practices in upcoming posts.

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