Story Points: Hero or Menace?
To start talking about story points, first we need to understand what story points are. Story Points are units of measure that express an estimation of the overall effort required to fully implement a backlog item or any other work that needs to be done. Teams assign story points based on complexity, amount of work needed and uncertainty. Teams use this as a trigger for conversations to understand how much can be achieved during a period of time. But, of course, the biggest the period of time is the least accurate this measure becomes.
Advantage of using Story Points
- As we measure effort to accomplish something, we take into account all the issues that can arise in the process of achieving it.
2. When we use time, we create an attachment to it that is not healthy when someone fails at achieving a deadline. When we use relative estimation, we focus more on the people’s side.
3. Each team measures it in their own terms as they use this as the starting point for discussion.
If we start looking more deeply, we can find even more benefits to using story points and if we give a correct use for them, as I mentioned before, a trigger for discussion and better understanding of the PBI’s that will be done, this is one of the best practices to focus on an Agile mindset.
The dark side of the Story Points
I just mention the cool side of using story points, but we have the other side of the coin. What happens when we use this dynamic in the wrong way?
The result of this is a complete failure in the mindset change. We have three extremely different ways of use, that can arise when we using this(maybe there’s more but I will only mention these three).
1. Use story points as a productivity indicator, and this can be for teams or individuals. If you use it in this way, for sure, someone will crack the metric not measuring true effort and start giving big numbers just to be “super productive”. This sounds bad but it is something that actually happens. Remember every team has their own way of understanding story points. If you measure different teams with the same number of story points, for sure you’ll get some unexpected results regarding productivity.
2. Use story points as a measure of time. For example, 8 points means two weeks of work. I know maybe you use it like this, right? I use it like this in some teams because it is “easier”, but this is actually wrong. If we start using this kind of comparison, then we are just lying to ourselves. Let’s stop using this and measure exactly in time again. We might get exactly the same results.
3. The last way of using story points that I’ll mention is as a Stake Holder context indicator. It’s easy to use this measure to set expectations, but the real thing is that we don’t need to set any kind of expectations. We should focus on goals that give value as soon as possible. If we use a conversation starter as an indicator, then we will have conflict with the team and the stake holders for setting fake expectations.
Story Points, Hero or Menace?
I think it is time that I started talking about why I chose this title and try to answer the question. I wish that you had already caught the reference. If not, this is a reference to Spiderman when James put our friendly neighbor in the spot to make people think about his role in the city, as a real hero because he saves people or as a threat because the bad guys appeared when Spiderman started fighting crime.
And as James asked, now I’m asking. Story Points, Hero or Menace? We use them to change mindsets, but at the same time, we can use them to disguise that we are actually changing anything, we are only using some new fancy names. My answer to this question, will be, it depends, and no, this time, it does not depend on the team, it depends on the culture around the team, the mindset of the people that interact with the team, because as soon as anyone starts using story points with a different use than, conversation starter and a guidance for the team this completely transform into a menace for the whole mindset.