Your sprints will be successful if you use points as relative work and if you base your sprints on your team’s average point completion rate. Otherwise, you will either not complete as much as you expect or you will complete stories faster than expected, setting you up for failure in future sprints.
Points are relative work
Points are used to compare stories against the smallest amount of work (e.g., changing CSS colors, fonts or some other simple thing). I wrote more about that previously in How Not To Use Story Points.
If a story is pointed at 3, asking the developer to “point it a 5” will not make the story result in higher quality, include more features or be done faster (or slower). The work drives the points not the other way around.
How stories are Pointed is just as important. It is easy for the developer to hem and haw and pull a number out of the air, but that leads to poor pointing. Instead we want to mix in some rubber ducking.
To do this, the developer needs to explain the story in enough detail so that someone not familiar with the work can understand the level of effort that it requires to complete the story.
For example, a story to add a log in screen to a page might be described like this:
- The screen has the following elements:
- email and password fields
- a “login” button
- a “forgot password” link, and
- a “signup” link
- Both fields are required and appropriate error messages will display if either are not filled out when the login button is pressed.
- If the credentials are incorrect, a notice will be displayed with the text “email and/or password incorrect”, the password field is blanked, but the email field retains whatever value was previously entered
- Clicking the forgot password link will go to the password recovery screen
- Clicking the signup link will go to the registration screen
- If the user successfully signs in, they will go to the dashboard screen
Once the story is adequately explained, then the developers must all vote on it. This serves as a “reality check” and prevents skewing by any one person. Whereas one person may see the work at one number, others may view it at another. The rough average of votes is taken (sometimes throwing out the high and low, depending upon the group) and fit in the point scale: if the team used the fibonacci scale and a vote average was, for example, 4, it would be pointed as a 5 to fit in the scale.
The most effective voting system is done where no one can see how the others voted until all the votes are cast. This prevents issues of groupthink.
Keeping track of the average number of points delivered in prior sprints is a good way of estimating the number of points one can expect the same team can deliver in the current sprint. Remember, the work drives the points, not the other way around, so insisting the team deliver Widgets 1 through 5, when the points say they should only be able to deliver 1 through 3, is the way to deliver even less.
Things that can affect delivery are team members’ absences (due to planned vacation or sickness), bugs and mispointing.
If a team member is absent, they obviously cannot deliver the points they normally could. If the absence is planned, then reducing the expected points for that sprint is one way to mitigate the risk.
Bugs should never be pointed, because they do not add value and cannot be sized against stories. Bugs are bugs, so time spent on bugs is expected to cut into time available for building features. This will naturally reduce the expected point delivery over time. The average point delivery will reflect bugs the team encounters.
Mispointing is less of a concern when there are enough (3-5) developers present to vote on each story. If the story is sufficiently described, and outliers are discarded, better accuracy can result.