"How long will this take?" is the wrong question

Published Thu Dec 28 2023 22:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
Throughout my career as a Software Engineer, I've continuously heard the same question asked. “How long will it take to deliver X?” And I’ve continually heard the same answer. “It depends”.
The issue with this question is that it's looking for a very specific answer when there are lots of unknowns. Are we able to ship a more minimal version? Which features are really important? Will other teams be able to support this initiative, or will they have other priorities?
At Typeform, we have a thing called TypeJam (previously called “Hive Sprints”) every cycle. During each TypeJam, anyone can propose a project or assign themselves to an existing project that they like the look of. For the duration, anyone can work on anything they want with anyone in the company.
TypeJams flip the “how long” question on its head. During a Jam, we ask ourselves “What can we achieve in a week?” instead of “How long will it take to build this?”.
This framing has been so successful that we’ve started applying it to the rest of our work too. Instead of trying to estimate the time required to achieve something, we’re defining the amount of time we wish to spend on it. In Shape Up methodology terms, we’re defining “appetites” instead of “estimates”.
Ryan Singer has a YouTube video talking more about appetites

I’ve personally found this approach encourages more constructive conversations to discuss the value and priorities of different aspects of a project, and often leads to an outcome that satisfies our original goal in a shorter time.


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