Breaking Bad Story Point Anti-Patterns
Blog: Agile Adoption Roadmap
There is occasional controversy in the Agile coaching community on whether to apply Story Points on user stories. This often stems from the challenge where some think that story points are a direct replacement for estimation and an expectation of precision while others suggest that instead of story point sizing, we should focus on focusing on small pieces of work. In other words, when applying a practice (e.g., story points), a bad pattern is implemented which is opposed to the way practice is meant to be applied. This is known as an anti-pattern. Anti-patterns lead to results that are counterproductive to the intent of the practice and reduce their effectiveness. In other words, not good.
- Unfit Translation anti-pattern – Some apply story point sizing as if it is nothing more than an estimate of hours and days (and weeks and months). There is often a direct translation of small, medium, and large to days.
- Pretend Certainty anti-pattern – There is often ascribed a sense of certainty when applying story point sizing where it gets used to predict when work will get done. At best, it can help with understanding progress, but you would never estimate “all” of the work up front anyway as priorities (and requirements) tend to shift so it would be a waste to do so.
- Pretend Precision anti-pattern – There is precision when using story points which isn’t appropriate. The numbers that story points represent are meant to be ball-park numbers as it is an amalgamation of size, complexity, and risk.
- Contrived Comparison anti-pattern – Some organizations attempt to compare story points and velocity across teams even though they are relative to the team’s composition and the type of work they focus on. This is inappropriate and decreases the integrity of story points and velocity.
- Effort Tampering anti-pattern – This occurs when someone outside of the team (usually management) attempts to influence the amount a work a team does by insisting on improvement. This impacts the integrity of the story point sizing framework and the velocity data as those are meant specifically for that team to have meaning.
- Inflation anti-pattern – This can be the result of when someone outside of the team applies the Effort Tampering anti-pattern by attempts to make the team “work harder”. The result may be that the team inflates their numbers to ‘satisfy’ the influencer and effectively impact the integrity of the story point sizing framework.
- Productivity anti-pattern – This is when story points and velocity get conflated as a productivity measure by those outside of the team. They are not productivity measures and will warp the intent of both story points and velocity.
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