Can You Get Unicorns? Agile Estimating and Planning at the Las Vegas Agile User Group

Agile Estimating and Planning was the topic of the first Agile and Scrum User Group meeting here in Las Vegas on Monday night, and it was a good one!

A little club business

In the last 3 months, Jim Schiel reached out to users of numerous local IT-related groups to invite them to join this new meetup group. As a result, we are now over 50 members and growing! Our first meeting was April 24th, and had about 8 attendees– not bad for a first time! We started by talking about the group and organization, then did introductions. The group was a wide range, from project managers and scrum masters like me, to developers and IT administrators. Slightly more than half were currently unemployed.

A great presentation

Can you get unicorns?Jim then gave a 90-minute presentation on Agile estimating and planning. He led an exercise in which we created and sized a backlog for a wedding. The exercise was a bit fun and a bit frustrating. I took on the role of an enthusiastic bride (the customer): “Of course the carriage should be pulled by horses. Unless you can get unicorns! Can you get unicorns?”

Jim’s a trainer and coach for numerous Agile methodologies, including Scrum. He explained the difference between estimating by “effort,” such as work hours or ideal person days, versus “size,” like story points or t-shirt sizing used in Scrum.

Some useful numbers I wrote down so I wouldn’t forget them:

When estimating the deliverable date, use the following formula:

backlog size/velocity * a variable = the number of iterations to complete the backlog.

This is a common approach, though it doesn’t really account for changes in the backlog after development has begun. The variable mentioned above is just for the team’s ability to work together:

  • If your team has worked together and is already a good, Agile team, with a fairly consistent and known velocity, the variable number is about 1.2 (adding 20%).
  • If your team is experienced-but-learning, multiply by 1.4 (adds 40%).
  • If your team is new, or they haven’t done Agile before, or there’s lots of technical debt, multiply by 1.7 or 1.8 (add 70-80%).

This really highlighted the importance of a strong team. Jim tried to hammer home that an organization’s process maturity isn’t its agility– the people/culture are its agility.

What’s next?

What’s next for the Agile and Scrum User Group? The next currently scheduled meeting isn’t till July, but I’m planning a Lean Coffee sometime in May or early June so we don’t lose momentum.

Written by

Stephanie Bryant is a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) with a technical documentation background from Las Vegas, Nevada. She helped a 100% remote defense contractor team transition to Scrum in 2016, bringing them to be more functional and productive thanks to improved communication and teamwork. Before falling in love with Scrum, Stephanie was a technical writer for 20 years and has written several books, including Videoblogging for Dummies. As an entrepreneur, she wrote and published a 4-issue comic book for knitters and has written or contributed to several tabletop games. Stephanie is an accomplished public speaker and trainer, having presented at professional conferences and user groups for the Society for Technical Communication, WebWorks, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat. She has both online and in-classroom experience as a teacher and trainer, having taught technical writing courses online and Freshman composition in the classroom at San Jose State University. She's also led teams, both professionally (as a Scrum Master and entrepreneur) and on a volunteer basis in her tenure as an officer of a local Toastmasters group, the Society for Technical Communication, and the National Writers Union, where she served as the national chair for the book authors' division. Stephanie is now turning her unique set of leadership, training, and Agile skills to a career in helping other teams learn to love Scrum and improve their teams and processes.