Agile

Story Points

What are Story Points?
Definition of Story Points
Story Points are a relative estimation unit used by agile teams to express the anticipated complexity and effort involved in delivering a user story or work item compared to others, without assigning a specific time commitment. Teams collaboratively assign points based on factors such as difficulty, uncertainty and dependencies to enable higher-level forecasting and capacity planning for sprints and releases.

Story Points form a fundamental part of Agile project management and product development. They are a unit of measure used to estimate the effort required to implement a given story, feature, or task. This article will delve into the intricacies of Story Points, their role in product management and operations, and how they are used in practice.

Understanding Story Points is crucial for anyone involved in product development, from product managers and developers to stakeholders and customers. They provide a common language for discussing the complexity and effort involved in delivering new features, and they help teams to plan and prioritize their work more effectively.

Overview of Story Points

Story Points are a unit of measure that reflects the effort required to implement a user story, feature, or task. They are not tied to a specific time duration; instead, they represent a relative measure of effort. For example, a task estimated as two Story Points is expected to take twice as much effort as a task estimated as one Story Point.

Story Points take into account various factors that can affect the effort required to complete a task, including the complexity of the task, the amount of work required, and any potential uncertainties or risks. This makes them a more flexible and realistic measure of effort than traditional time-based estimates.

The Origin of Story Points

Story Points originated in the Agile software development methodology, specifically in Scrum. They were introduced as a way to move away from time-based estimates, which were often inaccurate and did not take into account the many variables that can affect the amount of effort required to complete a task.

The use of Story Points has since spread to other Agile methodologies and to product management and operations more broadly. They are now a common tool used by teams to estimate effort, plan work, and track progress.

How Story Points are Calculated

Story Points are typically calculated during a planning meeting, where the team discusses each user story or task and assigns it a Story Point value. The team considers factors such as the complexity of the task, the amount of work required, and any potential uncertainties or risks.

The exact method for calculating Story Points can vary between teams. Some teams use a linear scale, while others use a Fibonacci-like scale (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.) to reflect the fact that the uncertainty and complexity of tasks can increase exponentially as their size increases.

Role of Story Points in Product Management

Story Points play a crucial role in product management. They provide a common language for discussing the effort required to deliver new features, and they help teams to plan and prioritize their work. By using Story Points, teams can ensure that they are focusing their efforts on the most valuable features and that they are not overcommitting themselves.

Story Points also provide a way for teams to track their progress and improve their estimates over time. By comparing the actual effort required to complete a task with the original Story Point estimate, teams can learn from their past experiences and make more accurate estimates in the future.

Planning and Prioritization

One of the main uses of Story Points is in planning and prioritization. During a planning meeting, the team discusses each user story or task, estimates the effort required using Story Points, and then uses these estimates to plan their work for the upcoming iteration.

Story Points can also help with prioritization. By comparing the Story Point values of different tasks, the team can get a sense of which tasks are likely to require the most effort and which are likely to deliver the most value. This can help the team to decide which tasks to tackle first.

Tracking Progress

Story Points can also be used to track progress. By adding up the Story Points for all the tasks that have been completed, the team can get a sense of how much work they have done and how much they have left to do.

This can be particularly useful in a burn down chart, which shows the amount of work remaining over time. By plotting the total number of Story Points against time, the team can see at a glance whether they are on track to complete their work by the end of the iteration.

Story Points in Operations

While Story Points originated in software development, they can also be useful in operations. Just like in product management, Story Points in operations can help teams to estimate effort, plan work, and track progress.

For example, an operations team might use Story Points to estimate the effort required to resolve a series of incidents, to plan their work for the upcoming week, or to track their progress in reducing the number of open incidents.

Estimating Effort

In operations, Story Points can be used to estimate the effort required to resolve incidents or complete tasks. This can help the team to plan their work and ensure that they are not overcommitting themselves.

The team might discuss each incident or task, consider factors such as the complexity of the issue and the amount of work required, and assign a Story Point value. This value can then be used to prioritize incidents and tasks and to plan work for the upcoming week.

Planning Work

Story Points can also be used in operations to plan work. By using Story Points to estimate the effort required for each incident or task, the team can ensure that they are focusing their efforts on the most important issues and that they are not overcommitting themselves.

This can be particularly useful in a Kanban system, where the team pulls work from a backlog as capacity allows. By assigning Story Point values to each item in the backlog, the team can ensure that they are pulling the most valuable work first.

Tracking Progress

Finally, Story Points can be used in operations to track progress. By adding up the Story Points for all the incidents or tasks that have been resolved, the team can get a sense of how much work they have done and how much they have left to do.

This can be particularly useful in a burn down chart, which shows the amount of work remaining over time. By plotting the total number of Story Points against time, the team can see at a glance whether they are on track to resolve all the incidents or complete all the tasks by the end of the week.

Specific Examples of Story Points Usage

Now that we have a solid understanding of what Story Points are and how they are used in product management and operations, let's look at some specific examples of how they might be used in practice.

These examples are intended to illustrate the flexibility of Story Points and how they can be adapted to suit the needs of different teams and projects.

Example 1: Feature Development

Let's say a software development team is planning their work for the upcoming sprint. They have a list of features that they want to develop, each with a user story and acceptance criteria.

The team discusses each feature in turn, considering factors such as the complexity of the feature, the amount of work required, and any potential uncertainties or risks. They assign a Story Point value to each feature, using a Fibonacci-like scale.

Example 2: Incident Resolution

Now let's consider an operations team that is responsible for resolving incidents. They have a backlog of incidents that they need to resolve, each with a description and severity level.

The team discusses each incident in turn, considering factors such as the complexity of the issue, the amount of work required, and any potential uncertainties or risks. They assign a Story Point value to each incident, using a linear scale.

Example 3: Task Prioritization

Finally, let's consider a product management team that is responsible for prioritizing tasks. They have a backlog of tasks that they need to complete, each with a description and priority level.

The team discusses each task in turn, considering factors such as the complexity of the task, the amount of work required, and any potential uncertainties or risks. They assign a Story Point value to each task, using a Fibonacci-like scale. They then use these Story Point values to prioritize the tasks and plan their work for the upcoming week.

Conclusion

Story Points are a powerful tool for estimating effort, planning work, and tracking progress in product management and operations. By providing a common language for discussing effort and a flexible measure of complexity, they can help teams to plan and prioritize their work more effectively and to track their progress more accurately.

While the use of Story Points can vary between teams and projects, the underlying principles remain the same. By understanding these principles and how to apply them, you can start to use Story Points effectively in your own work.