Understanding Estimates and Tracking in Agility

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What are estimation values?

The agile process defines three levels of estimation:

  • SWAG estimate: "Scientific Wild Ass Guess", which is used to define high-level estimates at the portfolio item planning level
  • Feature level estimate: Used to define estimates during release planning and sprint/iteration scheduling
  • Work level estimate: Used to define task and test level estimates as work is allocated across team members in sprint planning

See the Feature Estimate, Sprint/Iteration Planning, and What is SWAG? articles for more detailed information.


SWAG is used as organizations begin to scale their agile process beyond project planning through to the Portfolio and Planning levels. At these planning stages, SWAG is defined to help understand the relative size of an initiative.

What are tracking values?

In addition, different methodologies call for some differences in what is tracked. Generally, there are two numeric values that can be used in tracking:

  • Work effort: Indicates how much time was spent
  • Remaining to do: The best estimate of how much work effort remains to complete

Refer to the Seeing Total Effort for a Task and Detail Tracking articles for more information.

How do they map to the Agile process values?

These attributes are used within Agility and map to the agile process values:

  • Estimate (Story, Requirement, or Backlog Estimate): This is the feature-level estimate. It is used in velocity calculations, scope values, and feature-level burndowns.
  • Planned Estimate: By default, the Planned Estimate is updated as the initial value entered in the Estimate field. It is not used in reporting and is not intended to be updated, but rather used as a reference of what was entered as the original estimate. If the Estimate value is updated (not Agile best practice), the Planned Estimates remains as the original Estimate entered.
  • Detail Estimate: This is the work-level estimate that can be defined at the feature, task, or test level. It is used to allocate work to various team members.
  • Effort: The incremental entry of the work effort, typically entered daily
  • Done: The accumulation of work effort overtime for a task, test, feature, or rolled up within a project
  • To Do: The remaining to-do estimate as of the last update

What is entered and when?

Agile Process Step Agility Attribute What is Done
Portfolio Planning SWAG Establishes estimate value
Feature Planning


Planning Estimate

Establishes estimate value

Default by system = Initial Estimate value (when entered on Add/Edit pages)

Sprint/Iteration Planning

Detail Estimate

To Do

Establishes estimate value

Default by system = Detail Estimate (when entered on Add/Edit pages)




To Do

Enter work effort since last update

System accumulates total

Enter estimate of remaining work



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