Change Behavior To Change Value

Many teams find story points only a partially useful tool to facilitate the flow of work within a team. As noted, story points are not all unicorns and kittens story points can have issues. Can story points be fixed, or better yet can story points still be useful? On the whole, story points are inherently fine if they are used with discretion and structure, to meet a team’s needs.  The words discretion and structure are code for “change”. Reforming the use of story points to make them safe again doesn’t require changing how teams assess or determine story points, but rather how people in the value chain behave once they have a number (or two).  An upfront agreement for using story points makes story points “safe.” Four attributes are useful to guide any upfront agreement on the usage of story points. The RATS criteria are:

Range – Express story points and story point metrics as ranges.  Story points are often used to express the perception of the size or value of work. Using a range to communicate both inside and outside the team mitigates the risk of falling into precision bias.

Approximate – Agree that story points represent a team’s best guess using the knowledge available at a specific time.  Knowledge will evolve as the team develops specific experience, does research and/the environment changes. Story points are not precise.

Team – Gather a team.  Story points are a reflection of a collaboration between multiple points of view. As a collaboration of a group, they can not be used to assess or measure an individual.

Separate – Separate the use of story points from answering client and management questions related to when a function will be delivered and how much that functionality will cost from facilitating the flow of work with the team.

Regardless of what a team uses story points to assess or to approximate, the output of the process is a synthesis of thinking from a group of people.  Story points represent the thought process of the team that created them, influenced by the environment they operate within. Every individual on the team needs to understand the central thread of logic followed to generate story points; however, even on a mature team, individuals will have differences which further emphasize the need to establish a RATS-”based agreement on how story points will be used to ensure healthy behavior.