More Strawmen for the #NoEstimates Fire

Plenty of strawmen left to set ablaze as we wrap up this week of #NoEstimates posts. Read along as I pose the oft repeated arguments from the critics and then toss these worn out strawmen in to the fire.

More strawmen for the #NoEstimates fire.

#NoEstimates advocates are anti-management

The 3 main #NoEstimates proponents – Woody Zuill, Neil Killick, and Vasco Duarte – are either in management roles today or have held management roles in the past. After meeting Woody and speaking with Neil and Vasco, I don’t believe any of them suffer from self-loathing…

Looking broader at the #NoEstimates community you’ll find people in roles ranging from developer, tester, analyst, manager, director, vice president, and even c-level executives who are all interested in exploring these and other agile ideas.

#NoEstimates advocates don’t want to do things they don’t like to do/are hard to do

The question here is not about difficulty or desire. Value is at the center of the #NoEstimates discussion. As seen in the Nordstrom video, a small team was able to deliver value back to customers without estimates.

Can such an approach work on larger projects and still give the business the information they need to plan? Certainly.

What does that look like across multiple contexts and domains? That is what people are still exploring and testing.

However, #NoEstimates and Agile are not silver bullets. These ideas are not one size fit all. These are ideas built on transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Inherently, you have to adjust for your domain and context.

And sometimes, Agile is not a good fit for what you are trying to do.

#NoEstimates advocates avoid commitment, fear blame, and loath accountability

This is just a character attack that is unfounded and offensive. Agile and #NoEstimates advocates support transparency, are open to inspection, and are skilled at adaptation.

We embrace uncertainty and cope with the unknown by making small decisions frequently.

Working like this means we embrace the commitments we make to our customers, take responsibility for our work, and are accountable to our teammates to bring the best of our abilities to bear each day. We inspect these commitments frequently and make adjustments as we learn new things about the product we are building.

Perhaps the reaction from developers and team members that some have observed is a disdain for coercion.

When someone with authority addresses the team and says, “I promised those features for next Wednesday. How long will it take you to get them done by next Wednesday?” people get annoyed.

Equally damaging is taking an estimate and turning it in to a deadline. To add insult to injury, these same people shame the team for missing a date they never committed to in the first place.

Coercion is a damaging practice that is often mistaken as “avoiding commitment”, “fearing blame”, and “loathing accountability”.

But that’s not the fault of estimates, as they say. Bad management is to blame!

#NoEstimates does not fix bad management

Sure it can. Agility and #NoEstimates make the work and the systems that impact the work transparent. Transparency is the bane of control minded management (“bad management”). It threatens power structures and the rewards that come with such things.

With #NoEstimates Embracing Customer Collaboration, transparency is magnified.

Clearly Agile and #NoEstimates concepts have the best chance of chipping away at the command-and-control mindset of traditional management (“bad management”).

It’s isn’t shocking that #NoEstimates critics are not happy with the advocates. Look what critics stand to lose.

#NoEstimates arguments appeal to the disgruntled, naive, gullible, and inexperienced

Ad Hominem much? Another baseless attack. Agile minded developers, managers, and executives are motivated, intelligent, and experienced individuals. Along with a wide range of roles, the Agile community has a wide range of skillsets and experiences.

#NoEstimates advocates avoid exchanges with critics

Hardly the case: The 3 main advocates have gone 100’s of tweets deep with many critics and those who ask questions about the #NoEstimates concepts. Each of them are also very generous with their time and participate in 1:1 sessions over Skype, record podcasts, sit down for interviews, and engage in the community through participation at agile conferences.

Are there a few individuals who typically find themselves on the “blocked” list of agilists? Yes.

However, honest inquiry is almost always answered with thoughtful responses and generous donations of time and energy to help others understand these advanced agile concepts.

Here are podcasts with all 3 of the main #NoEstimates advocates sharing their ideas and opening themselves up to questioning, scrutiny, and criticism:

I’ve yet to see a critic do the same…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • (continued from previous comment)

    Bottom line reality, despite Mr. Ripley’s claims: the NE advocates do block all of the persistent NE critics, doggedly avoid linking to any critics’ writings on NE, and even call on others to block the critics as well (again, I have multiple points of evidence on this). They shut down conversation with anyone who questions their core assumptions or approach or conclusions, usually with the parting dismissive retort that “if estimates work for you, keep doing them.” And I haven’t even mentioned yet the vicious and frequent NoEstimates attacks on critics: the name-calling, the incredibly personal ad hominems (“troll”, “moron”, “liar, “box of rocks”, “you monumental goat f**k”, “I estimate that 100% of #NoEstimates skeptics are tools, trolls, & clowns, building up to every opportunity to play the victim”), the creating of bots to denigrate and harass NE critics, or calls for “we just want the critics off” the hashtag. NoEstimates advocates appear so embittered by the notion of critics’ very existence that they are fine with having garbage content, generated as much as six-times-a-day by anti-critic bots, posted to their own hashtag. Mr. Ripley of course doesn’t mention any of this, or that he himself has participated in the pattern of insults.

    The examples above are called evidence, and I have considerably more, with links. Mr. Ripley also might want to google for a definition of a “straw man” argument: it’s not just a lofty-sounding equivalent to “arguments I don’t agree with.” Citing actual evidence (with links), which his post and NE posts in general avoid, would be one way to demonstrate that one actually wishes to avoid using a straw man argument, and move beyond Graham’s DH3 level of discussion.

    But spuriously claiming to be “tossing these straw men into the fire” certainly does make for a catchy photograph to go with his post.

  • As one of the most vocal NoEstimates critics, let me start off with a positive observation: finally, after more than three years of arguing on Twitter and in blogs, we see a #NoEstimates advocate, here, actually attempting to answer the points that critics have made, rather than simply stating the NE stance again and again. That would be how normal debate happens: point, counterpoint, citation, clarity. And it’s something that NE advocates have avoided doing. So kudos for at least finally taking a small step towards engaging in a way that any normal debate would expect to see from the start.

    If only the responses in the post were of actual substance and merit, rather than (mostly) “no, they’re wrong” retorts. See Paul Graham’s essay on “How to Disagree”, where he calls this kind of response “DH3”, or “contradiction”. Graham writes, “In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is simply to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence.” And so it goes in this NoEstimates post, alas, and this “no evidence” aspect is quite representative of the NE side of the dialog over the last years.

    There’s not enough room here to debunk each and every one of the points in this post in detail, (and, alas, providing links in my comment here would relegate it to the spam bin), but bottom line for all of them: observe that they’re unbacked with links to actual evidence. Instead, we get just self-serving summaries (usually quite incorrect) of the NE critics’ stance, no links to the critics’ statements themselves, and a simple retort of (basically) “no that’s wrong”. (Note, in contrast, that my own four-part blog series on the “Case Against #NoEstimates” contains copious links to NE advocates’ posts and tweets. Evidence.)

    Mr. Ripley sets out to disprove the critics’ accusation that NoEstimates displays an anti-management bent, but he does so by doing no more than asserting the background of the main advocates. Note that the critics actually have quoted many specific statements of the NE advocates in support of their observation of how NE is anti-management, but Mr. Ripley ignores that fact. (Here’s just one example of such an anti-management quote from a core NE advocate; I have dozens more: “Who is most insistent that estimates are important? Who do those people answer to? Are those people actually good at anything?”). Denying what has been clearly shown, via many cited points of evidence, by just retorting that the NEers have themselves worked as managers, strikes me as roughly akin to the politician criticized for having anti-women positions, who then retorts that he couldn’t possibly be anti-women because after all he has a wife and daughters. Logic…

    One area where I agree with Mr. Ripley is that I share his “distain” (sic) for coercion. And this partially answers his last specious point, which claims (quite incorrectly, again) that NE critics haven’t appeared in podcasts. Mr. Ripley fails to mention that back last June, he “ambush-invited” me to his podcast, through a public tweet (issued without contacting me first) that preemptively announced that the next podcast in his series would be spent discussing my views on NoEstimates, and declaring that a chair had been set aside for me to participate. I of course declined, given the coercive and unsafe circumstances of the “invitation.” Mr. Ripley has since deleted all his tweets in that conversation. My response at the time (26-June-2015) read, “@ryanripley @ZachBonaker Ambush show. Not interested; really poor conduct on your part to schedule & announce it without my agreement first.” Yet here in this post we read the claim that NoEstimates shuns coercion. (continued)

  • Henrik Ebbeskog

    Remember. These are *your* truth, not *the* truth.

    Anyways, everything of this is unrelated to the *idea* itself. “Sure it can”, ” Certainly” etc. doesn’t indicate anything other than just that claim.

    I’ll still point out flaws and generalizations when I see them. As well as binary thinking and false dichotomies. And narrow private definitions.

    And also. I have *my* truth for the drivers behind this hashtag, not *the* truth. I base that on *my* experience, not anyone else’s.
    Anyway, unrelated to the idea itself.

    Kind regards,

    • The Nordstom video referenced my last post shows what is possible. We are past a claim. Now the discussion is around where else that way of working can be applied.

      I hope that’s where the discussion moves to…and stays there.

      Thanks for the comments, Henrik.

      • Henrik Ebbeskog

        Still proof by assertion fallacy. Just claiming that the Nordstrom video is not using estimates doesn’t make it so. There are in fact multiple levels of estimation in that video. They had a team size, a length of the experiment, and thus an idea of the cost of the experiment, and also a general idea of what was going to come out of the experiment. I don’t think they just roll a die to come up with those sizes.
        – How many developers? *rolling die* 8!
        – How long should we set up the experiment? *rolling die* 3!
        – 3 what? *rolling die* Months!
        – What are we going to do?
        – No idea. Let’s walk into a hair salon and build a… Hmmm… A radar system for ships!

        If this is #NoEstimates then it’s clearly misnamed. And I don’t understand the penchant to hold on to it.

        • You’re falling in to your own logical fallacy. There are plenty of reasonable explanations for how they did the work:

          1. Random roll of the dice (guesses) as you explained.

          2. Started with a budget – perhaps a % of revenue from sunglasses they were willing to risk – and then worked backwards. This is work is based on actual values, not die rolls.

          3. Perhaps they did a value estimate of > $10,000 and decided that a $10k investment made sense. And then worked backwards like in #2. The NE OP said nothing about value estimates.

          Keep in mind that Nordstroms is just one example. Others have been discussed on podcasts and written about in other posts.

          Finally, in my last post I already conceded the “everything is an estimate” win to anyone who care to make that argument. It isn’t interesting to me, neither is the name debate.

          Thanks again for your comments.

          • Henrik Ebbeskog

            Exactly. All of those are estimates (except the die roll). And you make it sound like “everything is an estimate” as something “bad”, as if I want to “win” some argument. It’s like you want to legitimate something, as if you’re saying “Yeah, yeah. Let’s continue here.” I’m thinking about #13 here (“It’s for a good cause”):
            I still don’t understand why clinging on to a name that doesn’t make sense? Don’t get it

          • I think that #2 and #3 are based on actuals with the sole exception of the value estimate which is not one of the types of estimates called out in the #NoEstimates OP.

            I don’t think that the “everything is an estimate” argument is bad. I think it’s a way to win an argument. If that is your goal, great! You win. Have a nice evening. 🙂

            I’m not seeking to legitimize anything. That ship has already sailed. Authors like Johanna Rothman, Ron Jeffries, Tobias Meyer, Vasco Duarte and others have covered these ideas in multiple books and publications.

            Pretending that the ideas are illegitimate does not make it so. 🙂

            I’m not interested in #NoEstimates because “it’s for a good cause”. I’m interested because I enjoy discussing and exploring advanced agile ideas with other people.

            As for the name, that ship has also sailed. It’s the name that’s been used for the past 4-5 years and it isn’t likely to change. This is also the 4th or 5th time you started the name argument with me, and I’m honestly not interested.

            I don’t care what it’s called. By any other name it would still be interesting to me…

            Thanks again for reading and for the engagement. I’m looking forward to your posts on your site about your ideas.


          • Henrik Ebbeskog

            1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”

            #2 and #3 are based on actuals? Yes, that’s how estimating works 🙂

            I’m at least glad you agree that estimates are natural, ubiquitous, unavoidable in both business and every day life 🙂 If you think that I want to win an argument just because of that, I’m fine with that.

            As a programmer you can say that I have grown a bit of an allergy to bad naming. A variable called NoEstimates which we all realize isn’t about not estimating will be refactored. It’s a quite easy task. Even if the variable name “got stuck”. That actually makes it even a greater reason to change the name.

            As I said, I will continue to point out binary thinking, false dichotomies etc. as well as the “estimates are waste” or “estimates are a smell” mindset. I think it damages my profession. That’s basically my cause.

            Thanks again, I’ll post my ideas on my blog. I thought a direct response here suited better.