February 17, 2016

The Power of #No

I did a talk for Agile Yorkshire on the 9th February 2016 called The Power of #No, to discuss #NoEstimates, #NoProjects and other notable Nos. Seeing recent conversations on Twitter I feel a particular section is worth highlighting.

I see some criticism of #NoEstimates to be semantic – the No doesn’t mean No all the time. So is it a fatally compromised idea? If it’s not No, then is there any validity in the arguments? Also, that some of the alternative techniques look to some to be too similar to traditional estimating to be a true alternative (e.g. forecasting vs predicting).

This stems I think from the engineer/developer mindset, and certainly from the Analytic mindset as so well described by Bob Marshall and others. As a developer myself, ambiguous requirements have to be explored until potential differences, edge cases and scenarios have been identified. SQL is not very forgiving of unclear needs. The software will interpret your instructions in one way, and you need to be sure that is the way you and your customer intend it to.

However we as people are not computers, we are capable of handling this ambiguity, even dissonance, and recognise the subtle nuance in human language (as opposed to computer languages). The No in #NoEstimates doesn’t always mean No. And that’s ok.

Woody Zuill frequently says “#NoEstimates is a hashtag for the topic of exploring alternatives to estimates [of time, effort, cost] for making decisions in software development.”

Note “exploring alternatives to” and not “declaring war on”. It certainly doesn’t mean “never use your experience, intuition or knowledge when thinking about writing software”.

Alternative hashtags have been tried but they seem lame in comparison. #WhyEstimates? #Yestimates? Meh.

Why not be more positive (or even neutral) in nomenclature? Using “No” is striking and provokes an emotional response; “Why” might be the underlying question but “No” is also a request for alternatives to the prevailing wisdom. (they may not exist or be inferior, but you have to ask to find out.)

The use of the “No” moniker has resonance, stickability and represents a challenge to orthodoxy. Attempts to move away from No rarely have the same traction (Allan Kelly likes to talk about #BeyondProjects) – certainly on Twitter anyway.

The story of #No is an emerging metanarrative about how we are searching for better ways to work together, get things done and find more meaning in what we choose to do with our time. To disregard it on the basis that it’s not black and white and therefore invalid is to think like a computer not a human.

So regardless of the merits of the underlying arguments, to dismiss the #Nos because they don’t easily fit into a binary classification is to misunderstand hashtags, language and the power of “No”.



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