Practical Software Estimation Measurement

QSM's Larry Putnam, Jr. Discusses the Role of Estimation in SAFe in SD Times

Larry Putnam, Jr. was recently quoted in 'Framework and Standards Are the "Essence" of Agile at Scale,' an article published in SD Times. The article consulted other industry experts such as Ivar Jacobson, Matt Schenck, Dean Leffingwell, and Ken France on best practices for implementing agile at scale. Larry's advice below.

Agile estimation is the key to a successful SAFe implementation
With all of the benefits of SAFe, getting it right is key. Using agile estimation can help.

“For organizations that are implementing SAFe, they’re really trying to coordinate a lot of different stakeholders within the organization and the real benefit they’re looking to get out of it is a much more nimble delivery,” said Larry Putnam Jr., co-CEO of QSM. “To be able to do that, we’ve got all these different stakeholders that we have to coordinate. That becomes really complicated and estimation is kind of the communication vehicle for these different stakeholders.”

Putnam explains that the highest level of an organization is the business and its stakeholders. The stakeholders or senior managers within an organization need to ask in what direction the business needs to go and how software will support that. These needs are usually articulated at a high level, said Putnam.

“Those are going to get apportioned across different value streams, and they’re really looking at the whole portfolio of what’s going on within the enterprise,” Putnam said. “In order to implement all those capabilities the business wants, you’ve got all these different cross-functional teams that are working on different pieces of the system.”

Putnam said that there is a minimum capability, usually referred to as minimum consumable value, that businesses need before they will go through all of the overhead of a formal release.

Businesses need to translate what they need at that high level into what systems they need to utilize in order to get that value. “Estimation, then, allows you to take that high-level scope and figure out: What is the duration that I could deliver that within and what is the cost to do that?” Putnam said. Business won’t fund two-week iterations at a time, Putnam explained. They will fund projects based on major capabilities that will be released and entered into production. “That is really where estimation is crucial because it can help you figure out what is the appropriate timeline for those teams to implement all of the things that meet the strategic goals of the organization so that they can do their budgeting and planning at that level,” said Putnam.

He went on to explain that within organizations there is a natural tension between people at the low-level, such as developers, and those at the enterprise-level. He explained that agile estimation can provide a buffer between the two groups by getting everyone on the same page.

Both groups must know what is needed and what a reasonable timeframe for it is.

“Estimation allows you to figure out for all of these capabilities the business needs, what the resource demand is that’s going to be required to deliver that, and how that matches up with the capacity that’s available within the organization today,” Putnam said. If the strategic direction that we are going in in the future requires different types of labor, estimation can help us figure out what are the types of people that I need to be going out and looking for and hiring to support the demand in the future,” he said.

“It’s all about coordinating and trying to get the benefits you’re looking for through this continuous delivery concept. I think one of the things about agile that has been attractive is that it takes a lot of this process away from the teams and allows them to spend more of their time delivering value to the client,” he said.

“Any time you are trying to roll things up to an enterprise level, there’s a certain amount of process that you have to bring back in to coordinate all these different stakeholders and drive out the risks associated with deploying something across the entire organization. I think estimation and metrics and measurement play a big part of that in helping you manage that enterprise implementation and transition,” according to Putnam.

He explained that it’s important to be able to quantify what benefits you are getting over time. “Are we getting our releases out more timely? Are we becoming more productive? Are we delivering better quality systems over time? Measurement and estimation allows you to answer all those questions. And those are generally things that the senior people in the organization are asking and care about.”

Read the full article.

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