Estimating Stories

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The purpose of estimating stories is to allow teams to understand their relative size and use that in Sprint Planning. Often, teams will use “points” rather than hours to emphasize that they’re not estimating the exact work effort.

I really, really prefer using a simple scale* for estimating to start with: 0, 1, 2, 4, 8

0 – such a trivial amount of effort that it doesn’t count. This is rare, but it happens.

1 – “easy” – a small amount of work.

2 – “hard” – a significant amount of work.

4 – “really hard” – a very significant amount of work.

8 – “really, really hard” – a huge amount of work. This is often an indication that we need to do Story Breakdown on this story.

Estimating process

  1. Review the story as a team, reading the title, description and any acceptance criteria aloud.
  2. Ask if the team is ready to estimate
    1. If no, determine what’s needed to get to ready
    2. Discuss the story as needed to ensure that the team has a shared understanding of who is asking, what they’re asking for and the value they expect to get out of it.
    3. This may result in the creation of Acceptance Criteria or other additional information – if so, capture those on the story card.
    4. This may also result in Story Breakdown – if so, capture that information and come back to Estimation as soon as practicable.
  3. Ask for an estimate
    1. Each team member decides on a number and then all show at the same time
  4. If there is more than one estimate
    1. If there is a minority with another number, ask them to explain why, then re-estimate
    2. If the team is split, go with the higher number
  5. Repeat

*Why not Fibonacci? Because I really, really don’t like it. It was clearly chosen by a math-head who doesn’t get human psychology. What’s the difference between a 2 and a 3? A 5 and an 8? Why do we have so many choices? It gives a false sense of precision that does a disservice to the process.

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