No money, no problems

Thorbjørn Sigberg
Jul 9, 2016 · 4 min read
War is poopy! (Image credits: R0Ng)

#noestimates, #noprojects.. No this, no that. It’s easy to feel like an idealistic hippie when discussing these ideas on Twitter, and maybe we are. The #noestimates community is mocked by many, and even those that nod politely when you present your ideas, secretly think you’re a nutjob.

Who do they think they are, talking about “just making great products” while ignoring basic economics.. Communists and vegans, the lot of them!

I guess there are some parallels to be drawn. When I think of estimates, I think of the dark side. Financial greed, mistrust, blame games. The big ol’ corporate machine with huge projects and contracts. Mindlessly selecting the lowest bidder, and then somehow blowing budgets even though they keep focusing on controlling cost instead of creating value.

See, I do know basic economics! That quote sort of makes sense, right? So why this endless focus on cost? My guess is a lot of companies are insecure about what value their projects are actually creating, so best cut as much cost as possible, just in case. But why are they insecure? They calculated the ROI before they started, right? Hm..

There have been discussions about these things on Twitter for years. They are probably entertaining to watch, but I’m not so sure we’re getting anywhere.

A common criticism against #noestimates is we’re just doing it wrong. The claim is that estimates and cost calculations and risk analysis and bob’s your uncle, it’s all easy-peasy.. If you just know how to do them right. Just stop being amateurs! And they’re 100% correct of course. Only trouble is most people just don’t. They don’t know how to do it right, and they never will! They’re so freaking terrible at all this it just makes you want to lay down and cry. We can tell them to be professional all day long, it won’t help one bit. Are estimates difficult, or are people just naturally bad at it? Does it matter?

So that’s what #noestimates is. That’s what #noprojects is. It’s us begging you to stop it. Because the truth of the matter is you suck at doing projects. You suck at estimating them. You couldn’t accurately calculate the ROI of a lemonade stand, much less a multi-million dollar IT project. So here’s a crazy idea; Don’t even try. I know you think you have to, but you really, really don’t. You’re just making a mess.

You couldn’t accurately calculate the ROI of a lemonade stand, much less a multi-million dollar IT project.

Yes, there are heaps of problems with the alternatives as well. It’s almost impossible to get out of this misery unless everyone involved have a fairly high level of trust. You need a capable, cross functional team that not only have enough domain knowledge to understand what your problem is, but can also build something that solves it without spending all your money in the process. If you don’t, you’re still in front of a fan with your hair full of shit. And unless you’re part of a company that has embraced some other hashtag craze like #beyondbudgeting or the like, no one will ever give you money to even try.

That’s what’s equally beautiful and frustrating about being an idealist. You know they are wrong, but at the same time you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes you haven’t got any. But you know the other side sure as hell is crazy, and that there must be a better way.

So you keep looking.

And you know something’s going on, because the dark side have started throwing rocks at you when you rally in the streets. They’re worried.

Because they know we’re onto something. It may sound like some kind of a myth, these teams working without estimates, without projects.. No one seem to even know where they get the money. There’s no budget, so how can there be money? That’s in violation of basic economics, right?

Only it isn’t a myth. I’ve seen these teams, I’ve even built them. And I’ll keep building them. And I won’t give up until we’ve proved it’s working so many times you’ll have no choice but to do it too.


Note: This post has been moderated and edited for length a few days after it was initially published.

Thorbjørn Sigberg

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Lean-agile coach, process junkie, passion for product- and change management.