When Will It Be Done?

How to Forecast Answers to Your Toughest Agile Questions



By William W. Davis

Florida, USA




Just like a plan-driven project that uses a predictive project management methodology, agile product development is subject to the same project management “triple constraint” of scope, time/schedule and cost/resources. Although agile teams may no longer create detailed schedules, organizational leaders still want to know when their agile teams expect to deliver new value to their customers.

This paper will explore how to create a probabilistic forecast using a Statistical PERT® Normal Edition spreadsheet.  Statistical PERT spreadsheets are freely licensed, Microsoft Excel®-based files that use the built-in, statistical functions inside Excel.  Agile teams who use a probabilistic forecast are better equipped to align expectations with key organizational stakeholders. Armed with information from a probabilistic burn-up chart, organizational leaders and agile teams can make better decisions today to achieve desirable outcomes tomorrow.


Agile teams do not work with detailed project schedules. Yet, most organizations continue to use projects to fund new software development efforts (the alternative is to continuously fund value streams without projects, much like organizations fund their core operational functions).  For project-oriented organizations, their project charters authorize how long an agile team can work together on a specific project.  The project funding should be equal to the cost of funding a dedicated agile team (or multiple teams for larger efforts) for the full duration of the project’s schedule constraint.  For the scope constraint, it is common for the project charter to offer high-level scope objectives for the agile team to complete and the business value that the organization expects to receive.  The charter may also offer a high-level release plan or key milestones for expected delivery cycles, but these are often little more than guesswork on the part of those who drafted the charter.

Agile teams are (usually) long-lived teams and not subject to the same kinds of fluctuations in team member participation as project teams working on traditional, so-called “waterfall” projects.  Agile teams, ideally, have all the skills necessary to plan, design, create, test, and continuously deploy new software into their organization’s production environment.

Therefore, two of three parts of project management’s so-called “Triple Constraint” are well understood for endeavors using an agile approach for product development:  the schedule and cost constraints.  What is unknown to the agile team and the sponsoring organization is how much scope can be completed within the time and budget constraints imposed by the project charter.

Specifically, organizations using an agile approach to new development must answer these scope-related questions:

  • When will the project’s scope really be finished?
  • When can new, major releases of the product be ready for production deployment?
  • How much scope (that is, new and/or enhanced features and capabilities) can be delivered by a certain date?

Answering these questions is important to project sponsors and organizational executives.  Executive leadership of an organization is accountable for how they use the organization’s available project resources, especially their employees’ time and effort.

To make informed decisions on which projects to fund (and not to fund) and which product features to pursue (and not to pursue), product owners, product managers, and organizational leaders must have enough information available to assess the expected return on investment for each project and each new product feature.  To do that, they need agile teams to provide reliable estimates for how long they think they need to work together to convert ideas listed on a product backlog into working software.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 7th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2020. It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Davis, W. W. (2020). When Will It Be Done? How to Forecast Answers to Your Toughest Agile Questions; presented at the 7th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May; PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/pmwj97-Sep2020-Davis-when-will-it-be-done-2nd-ed.pdf



About the Author

William W. Davis

Florida, USA


William W. Davis works in the IT industry, promoting personal and organizational agility, and sharing innovative tools/techniques with fellow agilists, project managers, developers, functional managers, and organizational leaders.

William has been a PMI member since 2005 when he earned his PMP credential and holds several Scrum credentials from both the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. He is an honors graduate from Nova Southeastern University (M.S. in Leadership) and an honors graduate from The George Washington University in Washington, DC (M.S. in Project Management).

In 2014, William created Statistical PERT® (SPERT®), a simple-to-use, probabilistic estimation technique that uses built-in functions within Microsoft Excel. Statistical PERT Excel templates are free to download, use, modify, and share! To learn more, visit https://www.statisticalpert.com.