I originally wrote this in January 2011, and just re-discovered it as an abandoned draft. In light of the recent popularity of #NoEstimates, even though I never finished this draft, here it is.
I see teams waste tremendous amounts of energy arguing about estimates, which has prompted me in recent years to recommend techniques that don't rely on estimating already-small batches of work. While I believe that organizations can deliver significantly more value by limiting estimates to the scale of a release, most organizations that I encounter can't let go of fine-grained task and story estimates for a variety of reasons. With this constraint, we have to find other ways to help teams deliver more value with better flow. One of my clients has recently experienced a surge in the value they managed to deliver, and I have started investigating the forces that led to this surge. Even though I want to investigate further, I have postulated one key force that I suspect represents a root cause for their temporary success: the deadline represented a true challenge, but a reasonable one.
During this period, which lasted about a week, people refused to let the usual distractions and obstacles stand in their way. These teams rely significantly on outsiders to provide knowledge about legacy systems and advice about high-level design issues, and usually find those people hard to pin down. During this period, teams more aggressively sought their time and attention, the advisers made themselves more available, and the work they did had high effect and low cost, compared to the norm. So far, they've told me that they "couldn't afford to waste time" during this period, which makes me wonder why they have felt comfortable wasting time before and, sadly, since.