Estimating Our Design Backlog Using Agile And… Our Dogs?

August 15, 2017 | Matt Payton

MATT PAYTON - Senior Project Manager | Citizen, Inc.
Matt Payton

Using agile for design isn’t a revolutionary concept: it has been examined and embattled for a while now. But we’ve broken apart this defined process in a new way, creating a rich opportunity to discuss workload and projected effort that works across disciplines. It’s agile-for-design based on something more fun than t-shirt sizes, and simpler and less intimidating than Fibonacci numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re not just dogs; they’re our dogs.

Velocity breakdown: effort + duration by dog.

Scrum masters have been known to break work volume into categories based by dog breeds. But because breed sizing can be inconsistent, a conversational taxonomy needs to be built so everyone gets on the same page. Questions like: “A full-size Shepherd? A newborn Pug? A mature Golden Retriever?” are bountiful when trying to find common ground within this system.

So instead of introducing ambiguity into a process that already feels overwhelming to newcomers, we created a simple, clean version using dogs we already know and love: our office dogs.

Lula (French Bulldog), represents our small tasks; Buddy (Beagle Lab Mix), represents medium tasks; Kaya (Labrador Retriever), represents our large tasks.

Self reporting encourages accountability and ownership.

So, why introduce a new process into something that already seems to be working? In the agile system we started running, we believed the person doing the work should be empowered to estimate their own work instead of having it dictated to them. In short, estimations are hard. Scrum doesn’t like using hours to estimate because hours are always wrong. Our hourly estimations are inhibited by ego or poor memory. But estimates are critical to keep projects on scope.

Instead of relying on people to estimate how long tasks will take to complete, we ask them to compare their work against past work they’ve completed. For example: if you know creating banners took you one Lula, then under similar circumstances you can properly estimate that creating new banners will take you about the same amount of time.

Within our first month running this process on one of the bigger projects in the studio, we started filling in more known factors so our estimations could be more accurate. Knowing more in week five than we knew in week one, we decided to reexamine our previous estimates.

Instead of relying on people to estimate how long tasks will take to complete, we ask them to compare their work against past work they’ve completed.

The results from the exercise showed us that we didn’t need as much time in visual as we had expected. The IxD was going to take longer than we originally estimated on day one of the project. While this didn’t make a huge impact on the overall timeline, it did bring the team together and make project planning more collaborative.

Don’t take it too seriously.

We all have work to do, but it doesn’t need to be sterile. Using dogs instead of t-shirt sizes or Fibonacci wasn’t just a way to get rid of semantic confusion, it was also an attempt at infusing some fun into what can otherwise be an unfun process. With time and practice across more projects, we can continue to refine this process and say definitively how many Lulas, Buddys and Kayas we can complete in a week.

[Full disclosure: This blog took me approximately one Buddy to complete.]

Not sure what process might work for your project? Get in touch with us to discuss your options.

Matt Payton

MATT PAYTON - Senior Project Manager | Citizen, Inc.