Episode 26 - Release Planning and Story Points

Bob and Josh return after a 5 month hiatus!!! In this episode, Bob and Josh discuss styles of release planning and some of the pitfalls we've run into in our travels. One topic that causes much debate is story points. How and when should you use them, and are they right for every instance of Agile.


  1. Great cast guys! Getting people to switch from time based to relative estimates is a very difficult task. A few things I have done in the past that have helped...

    1) One of the biggest hurdles here is that we are asking people to give relative estimates, but often don't give them enough things to compare to. Because they don't have a good, easily accessed list of stories to compare to, they revert to thinking about how long a task takes. One thing I've done before is to be sure to have plenty of cards from previous stories laid out for the team to compare to. Often I won't even have the story points listed on the cards, the goal is to simply give them a good reference point to say, this story is about the same as that one, or half of this one and twice that one. You then know what bucket the story in question belongs in. In this sense we truly getting to providing relative estimates.

    2) Stop using hours completely. You can still take the story and break it into tasks during sprint planning (this is the point where a lot of literature will suggest switching from story points back to hours), just don't put any estimate on them. Those tasks are either done or not, ideally each task would take no longer than a day so you can still see progress. You can then use one of two burndowns for the sprint. You can use the story burndown (burnding down story points as each story is completed), which if you are swarming and limiting WIP will still be a good indicator, really the only one that actually matters. You could also simply use a task burndown by number of tasks. If all the tasks are small enough it will provide a close enough indicator of progress.

    3) If you still use hours on tasks, don't ever collect or worry about actual time spent. Simply always ask for time remaining, regardless of time spent, and then you can update the tasks accordingly and the burndown will show progress and let you know if the sprint is running behind or on track. It's still hard to get people out of worrying about "I said it will take 5 hours and I worked on for hours yesterday and think there are still 3 hours of work" but taking as much visibility off what we previously said and tracked and putting all the focus on the remaining work will help.

    Just some things I have done in the past that may be helpful to people struggling with story points and time. People have been forced into estimating and thinking in hours for a long time, it's a hard habit to break and takes some time.

  2. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions. Oh, and welcome aboard!!!