estimation, points

Counting Spider Monkeys

The concept of story points is neat. It’s a tool that helps a team measure the effort to complete a story.

In a nutshell, a team agrees on a measure for a basic story: not too simple but not too complicated and assigns a number to it. From there, all other stories are relative to initial number.

Because teams are different, it’s easy to find teams with very diverse point system. That’s OK. However, I think that number should never exit the team room. We fail when we communicate it outside of the team. We get tangled into these funky measurements:

“The team completed 15 points in the past iteration and our velocity is 13, we did great!”

Reporting this kind of information does not mean much to management (or customers!). We might as well say that we completed 15 spider monkeys. The worse part is that we believe that we are doing management speak (since we are talking numbers). But they don’t understand since 15 points have no value to them. What’s the value of 15 points? And how does this match to another team’s 15 points? Well, it doesn’t match.

We need to find a common language that means the same to all of us. A unit of measure that speaks the value of the work that we deliver.

I am not sure that Story points or T-shirt sizes are the right ones. How about something more daring like money? I have not tried this but I feel that it can influence the ranking of stories differently (Getting $$$$ for a small task versus getting $ for a big project). It can help the team to better understand why they are working on a story. It can influence how you deploy to customer: why waiting for a big release to get $$$$$? Release now and get $$$ to sponsor more work to get more $$$. It can get everyone rowing in the same direction. Or at least I hope…