Hack Your Agility: Rethink How You're Using Story Points

Do you use story points for scheduling? Are your story points associated with effort?  Does your management hold you to a schedule that you created using story points estimating?

As we work with customers and help them move from traditional development practices to agile practices (whether Scrum, kanban, or other agile practices), we find that asking teams to radically shift away from waterfall practices and move to an ideal agile practice generally ends up in exasperation and/or the organization perceiving agile practices negatively.  We’ve found that the process of transforming teams in larger organizations frequently require a less revolutionary approach to adopting agile practices. Essentially we approach agile transformations evolutionarily.  We’ve found that many teams evolving from traditional SDLC’s have difficulty identifying with Story Points and their purpose, and tend to equate them with effort because it aligns with how they’ve done things in the past – deliver product within phases.  We try to disconnect story points from that perspective.  We’ve used story points as a means to a conversation so that the various team members can better understand scope of a particular user story.  As we discuss how the individual team members came up with the complexity value, the technical team exposes some, if not many, of the potential issues that informed their story point values.  This also helps the product owner understand how a user story that sounded “easy to implement” suddenly requires deeper mindfulness.  If this user story is deemed top priority by the Product Owner, then it  leads to the conversation of Minimum Viable Product and what can we actually deliver.  (Should we adjust our expectations?  Can we accept a different implementation for this iteration in order to deliver value?)  This necessary conversation all came from the initial discussion around story points (which we defined as complexity).

We find that by disconnecting story points form effort or even delivery periods and then reconnecting them to implementation and product definition, our customers improve their agility.

(Original article appeared in July 22nd 2015 edition of The Tempo)

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