No Estimations: An Experiment in Efficiency

Kayla DiPilato

At Kuvio, we are a team of innovators. This trait shows up not only in our work, but also in our company practices and as a result we recently stopped adding time estimations to our backlog tasks. For those not familiar, we use our backlog to keep track of tasks and assignments that need to be completed. In the past, each task would be given an estimate of how long the project will likely take. The idea was that these estimations would give employees an idea of how many projects they would be able to complete in a week. However, in reality we found that these estimates were often arbitrary and created unnecessary pressure and stress. As a result, we decided to try removing all estimations for a two-week period and then asked our staff for feedback.

It is important to note that we are not the first company to try something like this, and that this practice has been debated amongst different business owners. For example, Woody Zuill and Neil Killick were early proponents who wrote about the topic as far back as 2012. The basic idea of the no estimates movement is that small chunks of work, done in increments, can lead to a finished project in the most efficient way. No estimates will also help encourage employees to work on the most valuable tasks first. However, a fear with this type of work is that projects will slow down or not be finished on time.

Two weeks after removing estimates, we sent an anonymous survey to all employees to gather their thoughts. The majority of employees said that they “like” or “love” the process. Some of the reasons they prefer this method is because often estimations do not feel closely tied to the tasks, estimating made it more difficult to create a new task, and because estimates did not change how long a project took, it simply added a feeling of pressure.

However, there were some drawbacks to the process which we will address as we continue to adapt to this change. Some employees felt it was difficult to know when to start a task or how many tasks they could expect to complete in a week because there were no time estimations. One employee noted that they could not be sure if they had spent too much time on a task. In order to address this, we have begun adding more context into our task descriptions so that even without providing a numerical time estimate, employees can get a good idea of how involved a task will be. We are also working to change the company culture around what it means to spend “too much” time on a task. If an employee works efficiently to finish a project to be the best that it can be, then they spent the correct amount of time regardless of how long it took. Of course, when meeting tight client deadlines this will need to be reframed if we are becoming late on delivery, but so far we have not encountered this problem.

Overall, we plan to continue with the practice of no estimations and we hope that as we continue to get used to the process it will lead to even greater efficiency and employee satisfaction. Has your company eliminated estimations? Have any tips or tricks? Let us know on Twitter, @KuvioCreative.

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