A New Year and A Familiar Subject

New Year’s Day. The start of a new year… And for those of us in higher-education, the start of a new term. Like most people who teach, the first few weeks of January involve the frantic rush of getting ready to teach the Spring courses. If you’re lucky, they are courses that you have the material all configured and ready to dump back onto your employer’s learning management system. But it’s not that way for me right now as I find myself getting ready to teach Software Engineering again after some time away from the subject. So, the gap between Christmas and the start of classes is filled with reviewing the course texts, editing slide decks, and updating syllabi.

The past few days have been reading days. And I found an interesting article in the Janurary 2014 edition of the Communications of the ACM discussing estimation in agile processes <link>. Software developers who become vocal agile proponents tend to look askance at estimation; thinking that estimation of a software project has some connection to complete definition of the requirements for a project. What is missed in this case is that you have introduced a disconnect between business and development aspects of a project.

Agile planning focuses on workflow: how to decide what to do over the next few increments of time and how to generate the most value in that time. In the CACM article, the author points out that is very different from the business requirement for estimation: generate the information required to determine what resources are required for a project. This is key, as most software projects are capitalized projects and some sort of connection between budgetary cycles and development plans are required.

This is an important point that is missed in instruction in agile development. Textbook discussions of agile planning focus on the workflow aspects and tend not to emphasize the connection to budgetary cycles and estimation. It’s an important point to remember when introducing novice practitioners to use of these techniques.