VIDEO: How Teams and Stakeholders Get Hung Up on Perfect Estimates

This post was part of a free series of training videos to help people understand and explain story points. It's not currently available but you can register here to find out when it's next released.

Today’s post introduces the second installment in a series of free training videos tackling common problems teams face when estimating with story points. The training will be available until Wednesday, October 28.

In Video One I shared some coaching techniques you can use to stop team members equating points to time.

Today’s video looks at the pursuit of perfection and how this can hurt the estimating process.

Video #2: Getting Hung Up Trying to Create Perfect Estimates

I’m fortunate that most teams I meet, or have worked with, are passionate about agile. They may not have yet mastered estimating with story points, but they do want to learn, improve, and do the best work they possibly can.

This drive to improve estimating is commendable, but can cause problems if you take it too far. For example, if you’re not just trying to go from good to great estimates, but from good, then past great, to…perfect estimates.

I think most people know that a ‘perfect’ anything rarely exists, but that doesn’t stop organizations setting impossible standards when estimating.

Stakeholders, for example, would of course love a perfect estimate—an executive approaches the team, outlines a set of features and asks when it will be done. The team estimates the work and responds with a projection. The executive puts it in a perfect plan and everything is delivered on time.

We know this rarely happens, yet expectations of perfect estimates remain. Unless you manage expectations around this, stakeholders will experience disappointment, and teams do face a whole heap of trouble if deadlines are missed.

Not only that, but when teams learn that “perfect” is the goal…problems occur within the team, such as:

  • Teams refuse to estimate or will only estimate when every last little detail is explored
  • Teams simply pad their estimates to buffer expectations and try to avoid trouble

This is not an agile way to work.

It’s not even a nice way to work. Pursuing perfect estimates is a path fraught with tension and mistrust.

You want to avoid this, so I’ve put together a short video to help.

In this video you’ll discover four coaching techniques to help avoid the problems caused by perfectionism in estimating, including:

  • How to decide what type of estimate you should produce (and it’s definitely not one that’s perfect)
  • How to set expectations with stakeholders in a way that helps them see the team’s perspective (plus a simple exercise that really helps this sink in)
  • What you can do if you’re still pushed for a guarantee on an estimate

This video will help you talk to your team members and stakeholders about estimates. When you do that, you can align the expectations of people who want estimates and those responsible for creating them.

This video will help you set realistic expectations of estimates and how they’re going to be used. You’ll encourage communication so estimates can work both for stakeholders and teams.

Watch Video Two Now

Have Perfect Estimates Caused You Pain?

Perfect estimates may sound ideal—until you try to produce them. I’m curious: have you been under pressure to create perfect estimates? Have you been able to manage expectations? Join in the conversation below and share your experience.

Get Your Customized Elements of Agile℠ Assessment

Get Your Customized Elements of Agile℠ Assessment

Find out how your team is progressing in their mastery of the 20 key Elements of Agile.


Mike Cohn

About the Author

Mike Cohn specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of agile processes and techniques to build extremely high-performance teams. He is the author of User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning, and Succeeding with Agile as well as the Better User Stories video course. Mike is a founding member of the Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance and can be reached at If you want to succeed with agile, you can also have Mike email you a short tip each week.

Comments on this post are closed.