Last week, we had three tours in three days around here. Yes, I said “tours”. “A tour of what?”, you may ask. A tour of our Agile transformation! Now, understand you-me that tours are typically reserved for our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility (not a plug, just a reality). At first, I didn’t realize there was much of a show to be had with all our old cubicles and dingy carpet, but apparently I was all wrong. The tours were such a hit that we’re now making a video! Yes, that’s right, a video… an Agile transformation video.
We gave tours to three different groups, two stakeholder groups and one VIP. Each tour began at our local copy of The Agile Manifesto where we explained the values and principles that guide us. Then, the tour moved into our beloved Scrum Pit (a.k.a., “The Pig Sty”) where we used the 9 Scrum Boards to visually eplain how Scrum works. Last but not least, we walked the tour groups through the bullpen areas for 6 of our 9 Scrum teams to demonstrate the open collaboration environment we’ve established.
The mere fact that we had three tours in three days really demonstrated two things to me: 1) Our leadership is proud of what we’ve accomplished with our Agile transformation in just 8 sprints and 2) we’ve really done well by way of “visible information radiators”. Like the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, a Scrum Board is worth a thousand words too! Our towering walls of magnetic whiteboards with index cards seemingly-chaotic, yet intentionally-placed really seemed to leave quite the impression with our tour groups. I know now that having handed them a document or an illustration or shown information buried in some tool wouldn’t have nearly the impact. Our visible information radiators worked! At the time of the tours, we were mid-way through the 8th sprint across 9 Scrum teams, and progress (or lack thereof) was clearly visible within a 360° view of the Scrum Pit. I guess what I’m getting at here is simple … When your hand gets tired of writing story after story or task after task and you’ve got paper cuts on both hands, just remember that a well-constructed, well-maintained Scrum Board is the ultimate visible information radiator and worth a thousand words.
So, what’s the point of Story Points? 9 Scrum teams and 8 sprints into our Agile transformation and it seems that some still struggle with the proper use of Story Points, a common relative estimating technique. That said, I put together the following tips on this topic to help my teams (hopefully they will be of help to your teams as well).
- Story points are a relative measure of effort to done, NOT complexity, NOT priority, NOT sequence. Something that is highly complex might take very little effort to complete and might be considered 1 or 2 or 3 story points. On the other hand, a 13 point story might be worth further decomposing into smaller, independent stories.
- A common technique for story points is the use of the famous Fibonacci sequence of 0 1 2 3 5 8 13, 0 being hardly any effort and 13 being the most effort. Commit it to memory! Say it frontwards, backwards, forwards until you make it a habit. Or, make a game of it and get some Planning Poker cards for your teams.
- Story points must always be established before tasks and task hours. You can do them as part of backlog grooming, at the start of your sprint planning, or even negotiate them over e-mail, but never-ever do tasks and task hours before you establish story points. If you do, you basically negate the benefit of your relative estimating technique.
- After establishing story points for stories within a given sprint, you should be able to group all the 13’s and the 8’s and the 5’s and so on and they be of relatively the same effort. Make a point of thinking about it that way during your Sprint Planning. Furthermore, you can use the task hours you come up with in Sprint Planning to make sure it all jives. If you have a 13 point story and a 3 point story and both have just 6 hours of tasks then it is questionable as to whether you got the story points right or if you’ve considered all tasks.
- Story points are determined by the Team (based on all that has to be accomplished to meet your definition of done). It’s not about just analysis or just QA or just coding. The ScrumMaster and the Product Owner do not determine story points.
- There is indeed such thing as a zero point story if it’s something that the team has relatively no effort for.
The point of Story Points is to someday stop having to think about all those tedious task hours. If you know your team’s velocity of story points over time, you can use story points to determine what can nicely fit within a sprint. For instance, I know that some of my teams at full capacity are 40-ish story point teams. With that knowledge, the Product Owner can select 40-ish points of stories for the team to work on in any given sprint.