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9 Rules for Story Points to Empower the Team

The rules of story pointing, to empower the Agile team.
The rules of story pointing to help empower your team. Good story point processes are part of solid Agile software estimation techniques. Get Agile projects estimated with story points.

What is story pointing

Story points involve the process of assigning numeric point values to user stories. Often in Agile and Scrum. The process of assigning values to the stories is done collaboratively by the team. It is a process of relative sizing, where points are a comparison across work, to put an estimated point value on the user story. The story point value represents the effort of work, the complexity within that work, and the risk of completing it on time.

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Rules of story pointing

The following are rules to help with planning and to help with story points on Agile user stories. As part of Agile estimation techniques, story points are used to help the team organize around the work. So continue on to find rules to help get your story points in Agile.

Worth mentioning is that the process to place story points on the work is part of good Agile processes. In fact, it pairs well with and is enabled by other Agile practices and processes. In The Modern Owner, by TJ Rerob and Agile Rant, practices are explored that help more than just the Product Owner. The Modern Product Owner is available on Amazon here.


5 dysfunctions of a team

Check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to help a team work more collaboratively

Story pointing is ultimately a team based process. When the team isn’t working well together, it can be a painful process. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team will help understand major team issues and work on their resolution.


Story points are not an exact planning tool

What is story pointing, well I will tell you what it isn’t! The process is not an exact estimation and planning tool. The intent is not to try and figure out exactly how much work something is, aka how long it will take. Then to determine exactly how many work items can be done by the team in a given period of time.

Story pointing is not a tool to exactly plan out what can and can’t be done in a sprint. It is a guide only. And a tool to help understand if there is too much work or not enough work. Remember for your Agile estimation techniques, it is not an exact planning tool.

But not an exact planning tool or process!

Use story points to make sure teams are not overloaded in sprints

The pointing process helps teams to understand the total volume of work that they will have. To help them understand commitment or adjustments needed to be able to commit to the work. It is not an exact measure of the work. But a way to understand if way over on possible work to be completed.

Story points are about relative complexity and difficulty

The point value is about relative complexity and difficulty. If the team typically does a moderately difficult user story at a set number of points, that is their relative point value for similar work.

Not to say that past work needs to have exact complexity and difficulty understood. Again, not the intent of story pointing. It is a way to gauge the work and have an idea of what it will take to complete said work. Allowing the team to try to determine if and when they could complete. Enabled by comparison to other work.

Don’t focus too much on exact points

This is a callout that the points are not to be exact. Story points give an idea of the work, to help the team organize around the total effort and understand said effort. But it is not to be an exact measure of the work to be done.

Details of the work isn’t needed for story pointing

The exact details of the work are not required to be able to place points on a user story. Some understanding of the goals and how the team may go about achieving them is needed. But the team should not have to fully define exactly how to go about achieving work in order to story point.

Again, back to it not being an exact measure of work to be done. Because it is not an exact resource planning tool. Details will need to be understood by the team. That process can be done however the team sees best.

Teams may prefer to refine and understand all of the details of a user story and then do story pointing. That is ok, but it is important to know that is a combination of refinement of the user story and the story pointing. For true story pointing, relative point sizing can be done from the goals of the user story.

Story points are relative sizing

Story points are a relative number. Meaning that similar pieces of work across user stories should have similar story point values. But, the story point values are in relation to the similar work of that team. Other teams will not necessarily have the same meaning for story pointing.

Don’t hassle over small differences in points

Small differences in points are not worth having lengthy discussions over. In the end, these are not exact estimates. As noted above. Thus you aren’t trying to make sure these point values are what exactly happens. Work will fluctuate up and down. In general, a small number of points doesn’t matter. If all the work gets completed, there is always more work to do.

Or if a given piece of work doesn’t get completed, it will roll and push other things out of the way. Thus, save the hassle on small differences in story point values. Remember the rules for story points in Agile!

Better processes using story points will allow the team to dig into the product backlog more effectively. This will help the team to plan for and execute the work. It will allow the product owner to better steer work towards best value, by having more understanding of the work in the backlog. Letting the product owner prioritize very effectively.

Software projects require estimating the work. So use a process that is lightweight and doesn’t excessively slow down the team, but still gives an aspect of estimates to the work. Even if it is a high-level estimate. This is the Agile approach and how agile can help story points in your Agile environment.

Remember that story points are best created by a team

One thing that must be remembered is that all the perspectives need to be heard to come up with good estimates. In taking on complex work, we often listen to those that know the most about said work. That is great, and they are an extremely valuable resource. But that is one end of the “estimate” spectrum. Letting that opinion guide team estimates fails to bring in the ideas and perspectives that get a well-rounded estimate.

It is not simply about someone else doing the work and maybe if they are not an expert that it could take longer. It is more that by following the leading opinion, there are assumptions made and biases followed that nobody is even aware of. You miss out on the chance to learn and grow your understanding as a team. Thus creating a better Agile estimate.

Estimation of points, or is it hours?

We fall into the points or hours trap all of the time. What is it? Well, in short, estimates always want to know the time it will take to complete something. This comes from past work practices as much as it comes from human nature. We just want to know when it will be done.

However, if working in Agile software development, you are typically working in smaller increments of time. IE, the sprint. This is should be smaller, typically around 2 to 3 weeks. If talking about work that will be done within 3 weeks, is it really necessary to know when it will be done? You know the end date of the sprint that said work will be within. If it has a sprint.

Thus, the more important part of the Agile estimation is understanding the relative complexity of the work. And of course, breaking the work up into manageable pieces. This means that you have some understanding of a team how complicated and how difficult a piece of work is. Allowing the team to fit that work into a sprint. Again, as long as the work is in manageable pieces.

Benefits of using story points for your Agile process

  • Story pointing helps create a standard and repeatable process for the team to estimate work.
  • Story point estimation allows a team to move quickly thru planning processes.
  • Story pointing by a team can be very accurate.
  • The process can be lightweight and easy to use for Agile teams, if you let it.

Story points are one of the best Agile tools available. If not using it, consider it. And be Agile my friends!

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