Agile Planning

A Better Approach to Agile Estimation: Say Goodbye to Story Points and Hello to Predictable Delivery

Are you tired of unpredictable delivery and low team morale in your Agile software development projects? It might be time to reconsider your approach to estimation. The widely accepted method of using story points has been a failure, leading to misleading estimates and frustration all around. But there’s a better way. Discover a simpler and more effective approach that leads to predictable delivery and motivated teams by asking one simple question for each piece of work.

The Agile methodology has been widely adopted by software development teams, but the industry-wide track record for unpredictable delivery is evidence that we’re doing something wrong. Part of the problem lies in the use of story points, which have been touted as the solution for Agile estimation but in the wild, have proved to be a complete waste of time.

Originally intended as a relative measure, it is commonly implemented as an absolute measure and linked directly to a unit of time. 

The industry has unintentionally misled you, your teams, and itself into believing that story points are the way to go, causing teams to become very attached to them; however, the reality is far from that. Using story points can destroy team morale, as team members feel pressured to assign arbitrary numbers to tasks. This abuse of the original intention of story points, which was meant to be a relative scale, by using it as an absolute scale and mapping points to hours, can further compound this issue. Furthermore, stakeholders are misled by these estimates, as they are often used as a smokescreen to obfuscate and unintentionally erode stakeholder confidence.

Proponents of Story Points would suggest using story points “properly” – which is doing the wrong thing righter!

The biggest misconception is that the purpose of sizing is to estimate how long work will take to complete. The real purpose of sizing is to understand if your work is broken down small enough.

But what if we told you there’s a completely different approach to Agile software estimation that is far easier and leads to more predictable delivery?

Agile Estimation: A Better Approach

It’s as simple as asking one simple question for each piece of work you want to estimate: “If it makes sense to do so, can we break this piece of work down any smaller?”

That’s it. No complex calculations, no arbitrary numbers. By breaking down tasks into smaller and more manageable pieces, we better understand what needs to be done, reduce complexity, and understand what resources are needed. This approach leads to more predictable delivery and a more motivated team who feels that their work is well-defined and achievable.

In conclusion, the story points approach to Agile estimation has been a complete failure. It’s time to abandon this ineffective method and embrace a simpler, more effective approach that leads to predictable delivery and happier teams.

The next time you’re asked to estimate a task, just remember to ask one simple question: “If it makes sense to do so, can we break this piece of work down any smaller?”

Advanced Agile Estimation, Planning and Forecasting

Take a deep dive into Story Points, Agile Estimation, Planning and Forecasting on our 1.5 day instructor led online course. Organisations often struggle to accurately estimate work, resulting in damaged stakeholder expectations, late delivery and demotivated staff. In this series of workshops you will learn how to accurately estimate Agile user stories, Features, Epics, projects and even entire programmes of work using the latest techniques from industry experts.

About Ian Carroll

Ian consults, coaches, trains and speaks on all topics related to Lean, Kanban and Agile software development.

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