Story Points: What’s The Point?

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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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About Stephanie Davis

Stephanie Davis is Senior Director of Enterprise Agility & Digital Product Leadership at Cox Target Media. In this role, Stephanie champions agility across the enterprise, leads the Agile PMO, and manages the CTM portfolio while also overseeing the Digital Product Leadership team. Stephanie leads the team of Agile Project Leaders in the roles of ScrumMaster, Kanban Lead, and/or Agile Project Manager as well as overseeing the IT Business Analysts. Stephanie is a career project leader with over 16 years in the field, including past positions with AT&T Business and IBM Global Services, and has maintained the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification since early in her career. She also maintains the PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials. Her academic credentials include a BS in Marketing and an MBA in International Business. Stephanie serves and supports Agile within her community and beyond as organizer for the Tampa Bay Agile Meetup and the Agile Open Florida. Most recently, Stephanie has been elected to the Agile Alliance board for the 2015 to 2017 term. View all posts by Stephanie Davis

One response to “Story Points: What’s The Point?

  • Jordan

    If it’s a measure of effort, what’s wrong with hours and days?

    Why does it have to be fibonacci?

    I have never understood the reason for either of the above, aside from fashion and your post doesn’t seem to illustrate what the advantage of any of those things are relative to using actual days/hours.

    The only advantage I can see to using those techniques is to make it hard to compare your old (pre agile) progress with your new progress, to make it easy to fudge the numbers with velocity, and to give an aura of numerology to the whole endeavor.
    Jordan

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