Thinking humble

The quality of an answer to an open question

Robert Nickel - July 08, 2019  🏷️  Thinking

I used to work in the same team for more than 2 years, and now I left and joined a much smaller team in a green field project. We had the chance to set up parts of our methodology on our own, and one part was the question: "How do we as a team want to estimate?".

It was consciously expressed as a very open question, and a colleague of mine immediately responded: "In hours please!". Before this project, she was in a project where one story point was equal to two hours of work, and you get into trouble, if you take more than the estimated time. The improvement/simplification she proposed was to not divide by two (which sounds like a random number in this context) when estimating story points instead of hours. I do not want to discuss this way of estimating non-linear work here.

The question she answered was not: Should we estimate time, effort, complexity, risk, business value or something else, on which scale (Fibonacci numbers, natural numbers, binary..) and in which unit (hours, days, story points, T-Shirt sizes, our own scale, apples..)? Her perspective to the question was one dimensional (which factor per hour), in a multidimensional answer-space. I believe her answer was smart in that one dimension, but not useful, when considering more of the dimensions we know of. This is not her failure or stupidity, it is her experience with this world of "agile" software development, and was extended in the next few minutes after other colleagues told their opinion.

It made me think: Am I answering multi-dimensional questions on a one-dimensional scale? Of course I do, basically everything I think of, I have to think in words I know and cannot think in languages or other concepts I have never heard of. In a lot of open questions, there are a lot of answers from dimensions I would never even consider, but are equally valid or much better than those I would consider.

This means, that the quality of an answer to an open question is not defined by the number of other answers that were considered from the same dimension, but by the number of dimensions, that came into consideration in the thinking process.

My colleague could not have found a great solution by trading off the number of hours per story point to be 1, 2, 3 or any other number, but we could find a good solution together, by exchanging thoughts and experience with other people, that do consider other dimensions. It is not easy to think out of the box, I therefore propose to visit other peoples boxes and have a curious look out of their windows. Also dare to step out onto their balconies. I think this is a basic concept in teamwork, friendship and familiy.