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Using t-shirt sizes - literally to forecast and release plan

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

I had several different positions before finding my way into the agile space. I was a PMP, worked at many well-known companies, one for almost 10 years, and was very successful. One company nicknamed me “The Firefighter“ because I had a reputation for saving projects on fire.

Project Management is a well-established field, and PMP’s are well-respected. The tools that profession provides to identify and manage risks up front are top notch. Mitigation strategies are heavily invested in, with multiple potential solutions. Except one. And it’s a doozie.

Schedule risk. What the Scaled Agile Framework calls “Cost of Delay”. It’s basically what you will lose if this thing isn’t built by a certain time. Thank goodness I never forgot about schedule risk. Whenever we were required to give an exact date estimate, there was built in “Murphy time”. Because Murphy BITES.

In Agile, everything we do is based on value. Backlogs are Ordered, not Prioritized, to deliver when it’s needed first. So how do you figure that out? You put it on a wall. You talk about it. You move things around. You talk some more. You decide the order for delivery together.

That’s why I use a variety of techniques to try to figure out what’s possible based on yesterday’s weather.

That’s where T-shirt sizing comes in. We equated sizes to sprint ranges. S=1-2, M = 3-6, L= 7-12 and so on. And when it came time to do a Roadmap or Plan a Release, we used different sized Post-It’s to represent the work. The size dictated how many items we could put in our time buckets. The work was sized on a quick conversation and the gut feel of the builders. Not their bosses. Them.

I virtualized this when I spoke on Forecasting for a group in Indonesia last month. Here’s a picture of that exercise.

I think I can make it even better, but it’s kinda cool already. The shirts represent a time frame. The cards are sized to fit precisely into the t-shirts, or they don’t fit into the timeframe. A little visual data for better decisions.

That’s Flipping Agile on it’s head. A little tip I learned from Richard Sheridan at Menlo, and made my own.

Interested in running Agile Forecasting and Release Planning? Just reach out to me. I’m usually on LinkedIn.

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