Points of Confusion in Agile

Originally published at: http://www.sitepoint.com/points-confusion-agile/

One of the most confusing things about agile may be the fact that we call the estimated units of complexity and effort that will go into completing a story, points. We also use the term velocity to help estimate the number of story points a team believes it can handle in a given sprint. As soon as you introduce terms like these, engineers and managers alike instinctively start to think of them as a way of measuring the value of what is being done.

In fact, points and velocity have absolutely nothing to do with measuring the business value of the work done by the team. They also have no use as a tool for evaluating how hard the team is working, or how much objective work they are getting done. The true value of points is that they represent an abstract and relative metric for estimating what it will take to get one story done compared to another. Ultimately they are intended to help the engineers on the team get better at predicting what will be involved in addressing new stories. But trying to convince managers and engineers of this can be confusing when they see shiny points and graphs that look like they should be going up and to the right.

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We tend to estimate points in terms of complexity during a poker session, but in sprint planning we then turn those estimates into hours and then use the hour estimates to “fit” a given amount of work into a sprint.

The only benefit we get from points per se is the team coming to a consensus regarding the difficulty of a given story or task.

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As a product owner I really don’t care much about the story points when coming to a Sprint my priorities are clear and I’m going to try to have as much into the sprint as the team allows me to based on my priorities and value.

It’d interesting to explore reporting without story points. How would management report without presenting numbers? What do you think?

In some cases, teams are encouraged to just count the number of stories, on the optimistic assumption that the stories as written would all estimate out to be comparable if points were being used.

Oh wow. That sounds awful. Why use Agile at all if you’re not even going to attempt to assign points?

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