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Keep Your Digital Team on Track with These Project Estimation Methods

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Project estimation is an essential activity of any digital team. While many methods for weighing and ranking backlog items exist, choosing one that’s best suited to your project can be hard. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn how to decide the most ideal technique for your digital team.

Why Project Estimation is essential to Digital Team

Any project needs a schedule. In a digital team environment where everything changes and evolves rapidly, you must plan for the time and resources that would go into each task so that you can deliver results in time.

With project estimation, your digital team can allocate their skills and resources better, and prioritize the right tasks and features. 

Inaccurate estimations always result in late delivery, damaged stakeholder relationships, and eventually a failed product. In addition, the estimation will make each team member have a sense of discipline and responsibility for their deliverables.

Senior product owners and scrum masters are experienced in many estimation techniques. Because each method is unique and has its pros as well as cons, you want to choose the one that works best for your digital team. Which one to choose also depends on various factors. They could be how complex your project is, how large your digital team is, and whether your team is working remotely. 

Below is the rundown of some most popular project estimation methods for the digital team and how to choose the right one for your project.

Planning Poker: For Precise Estimations

As a technique that focuses on team consensus, planning poker requires every team member in your digital team to pick one out of nine cards, each card having a number that represents the complexity level. Usually, these numbers follow the Fibonacci sequence, in which the sum of the last two numbers equals the following number (for example, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89). Many also use its variation, where numbers are rounded.  

Being exponential rather than linear, planning poker helps digital teams easily recognize the differences between and the complexity of tasks. For every story point or feature, each member would choose the card that they believe represents the amount of effort—usually measured in duration or cost—to complete a task (1 typically represents the least effort). Then they face the card down. Cards are revealed one after another. If any of the cards used for a feature or user story varies markedly from the others, outliers explain why they voted the way they did. Members of the team continue to vote until they reach an agreement.

As most popular project estimation method, Planning Poker reduces the possibility that participants will influence each another. It also saves time because options are limited and members usually reach a consensus quickly. Planning poker is ideal for distributed digital teams since you can replicate it remotely. There are many applications designed for planning poker.

Dot Voting: For Remote Teams

Dot Voting is much more simple than the above digital team estimation techniques. And it is best applied in whiteboard tools such as Miro. The scrum master/project owner would compile a list of items on backlog. Then he gives each team member a set of dot stickers, each with a different color, to place underneath the items on the list—one for the easiest stuff, five for the most difficult. The more dots a thing has, the bigger and more complicated it appears.

One limitation is that the number of stickers placed next to a specific story point by others may impact participants' decisions. Individual votes can be hidden until the completion of the voting process, which can be avoided with appropriate software. Dot voting provides an easily consumable visual representation. The degree of precision may be raised by choosing a larger scale, such as 1-10, if necessary.

Affinity Estimation: For Teams in the Same Location

Also known Affinity Mapping, Affinity Estimation focuses on comparison, where items that require similar levels of effort are gathered into sets. The end result is similar to T-shirt Sizes, but the path to get there is different. To signify effort level, your digital team starts by writing "Smaller" on the left side of a wall and "Larger" on the right. The objects are divided among the team members, who then arrange their items on the wall between the two labels, arranging items of similar size together. They next discuss and change any things that team members think are poorly arranged.

This method is best used by a group of people who are in the same place at the same time. It should only be used when a less thorough concept of project length and expense is required, as it provides an approximate estimate of item complexity.

Bucket System: For a Large Backlog

The scrum master/project owner produces nine "buckets" for this approach, which are commonly huge cards set on a table. The Fibonacci sequence or a variant of it is used to number the cards in order. The items on the backlog are written on smaller cards or sticky notes and distributed among the members of the group. To begin, one participant chooses an item at random and sets it in the middle of the eight buckets. After that, each team member places their goods in the bucket that they believe best represents the work necessary in relation to the first item. Group members assess all of the buckets at the end of the exercise; if someone feels an item was placed wrongly, the team debates it until consensus is achieved.

This strategy is ideal for digital teams estimating a high number of things since objects are inserted in rapid succession. Individuals are expected to estimate things on their own, with team feedback arriving only at the end, hence the Bucket System is better suited to team members who are acquainted with estimating.

Ordering Method: For Experienced Teams

Your digital team will find it easier to see items in relation to one another and determine which to prioritize if you use the ordering strategy. This method works like this: the scrum master/project owner lines up items on a board or table (if your digital team works in the same office) or a digital board at random (if yours works remotely). The goal is to reorganize them from low to high priority. Each team member has a turn moving an item up or down the line by one position. The movement is determined by the amount of effort required for that item in comparison to the things on either side.

Ordering Method works better with a team that is skilled with estimating due to the emphasis on individual decision-making.

Selecting the Best Fit

Any leader of a digital team must be able to lead his or her team through an efficient estimation process. Team members may turn their subjective ideas into quantitative data that will help plan the next project and allow management to measure progress quickly by assigning ratings to features or stories. It's a good idea to trust your team members' work estimates because they'll be based on their experience, unless evidence from previous projects says otherwise.

Remind the team that being excessively optimistic about estimates is unproductive, and that if the assumptions or dependencies change over the project's life cycle, at least one additional estimating session will be necessary.

Which technique is best depends on the project's nature, the size of the digital team, and team members' experience with estimation.

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