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 is Executive Director - Enterprise Agility Office at Catalina, driving lift and loyalty for the world's leading CPG brands and retailers.  Most recently, Stephanie was Senior Director of Enterprise Agility at Valpak. She was with Valpak for 13 years, most of which were focused on leading their agile transformation to what became a world renowned success story published in case studies and demonstrated to over 50 different companies through the years via agile tours.  Prior to Valpak, Stephanie held past positions in the project management domain with AT&T and IBM. Stephanie's academic credentials include a BS in Marketing from the University of South Florida and an MBA in International Business from the University of Bristol in England. She also maintains the Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials. Stephanie is big on tech community involvement!  Most recently, she served as an elected board member to the Agile Alliance, a non-profit organization with global membership, committed to advancing agile development values, principles, and practices. In addition, she serves her local community as an organizer for Tampa Bay Agile, the largest and most active tech Meetup in the area, and the annual Agile Open Florida event. In 2016, Stephanie was awarded Tampa Bay Tech’s Technology Leader of the Year and the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year (Tech) and Emerging Technology Leader of the Year. 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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