How Do You Decide How Long Things Will Take (in a SCRUM Shop)?

Subject: How Do You Decide How Long Things Will Take (in a SCRUM Shop)?
From: Yannia Vodrovich <coralfire -at- rocketmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 2009 11:07:35 -0700 (PDT)

Hi all
I am a captive TW at a small software co now. I am having a devil of a time at an agile scrum shop . I am new and am charged with giving estimates to the microsecond to a micromanager of how long things will take to put on the Product Backlog (list of how long things will take and then check off as we go through the "Sprint' toward the release) , for software that I am (obviously) just learning, for documentation (totally online help format, using Help and Manual) that I also am just learning.
The difficulties are obvious: I don't always know (1) how thorough the documentation is that is already there. Sometimes I can go look and figure it out, sometimes I can't as there is not enough time to dig or it is not obvious as there is topic overlap; (2) I am just learning the software which is moderately complex to complex; and (3) there are intervening things that come up, as do things at any job, and being new (2.5 months) I don't totally have a feel for that either.
My first estimates that I gave, I gave myself a lot of wiggle room but the micromanager seemed bewildered and said they seemed high and was worried because I also have another hat to wear, working for the Training Department. So I adjusted them down a bit, with hesitation, and the micromanager is upset because I am running out of time. :-) This guy is really driving me nuts.
I need to give him specific time estimates, to make him happy,  for each little piece of coding that the developers do, ahead of time (if you have ever worked with a scrum agile shop) which - the jury is in, I am finding that I dislike very much. Somehow I have to predict the time, but I can't give too much time but can't run out of time either, and I have to do this as a totally new employee.
I have gotten together with the QA person and two developers before each of the last two "Sprints" to ask what the hard easy and medium sections of the software are, and I have looked at the documentation and categorized it by "Sparse, medium , and Well-Documented' to aid in my estimates. Beyond that, I talk to everyone I can, but somehow my estimates are just not working. They are leaving me like running over by 2 days that makes him upset. And working overtime gets old quick at this stage of my life. Short of polishing up my Crystal Ball, I don't know what to do. His phone calls are getting old (he is in another office). he says it nicely but he annoys me. Micromanaging really gets under my skin.
Actually he is not my true boss. My true boss is the Training guy. they did that to write my salary off to a client since training is client-based. so that is good. But he is like a dotted line relationship - and till the training stuff kicskup I have to deal with him A LOT . Lucky me! The Training mgr says everyone in Training hates him and is afraid of him - and that even he 9the Training mgr0 has problems with this guy because of his condescending attitude and strong personality etc.
Anyway, I have been a TW for a long time but nowhere I have ever worked have I been expected to hit the mark to the nanosecond and not be too high or too low and get hanged either way.
I just don't know what to do.
At any rate, I need help - how do you guys, esp. those in a SCRUM shop deal with this? Has anyone been through this? I am going nuts. How do you figure in the "unknown' wiggle room? And once you do how do you defend it on a Product Backlog? What do you call it and sound respectable to a micromanager? What name does it get on the Excel sheet?


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