I’m not fully surprised when someone argues with me about the so-called individual capacity and how not assigning story points to an individual creates the perception that their productivity is going to be questioned. That is sad and wrong. Story points are, and always should be, a team sport and nothing else.
A few days ago I brought up the subject of the spikes and how they should be measured in a timeboxed manner, not in story points. This is slightly related to it: one of the (sad) reasons, but not the only one, is that there’s a perception that story points are somehow related to individual productivity, a sort-of video-game score. And in some cases, it is impossible to take away that perception without fighting a good fight.
Let’s imagine we have a user story that contains the following acceptance criteria:
- Code a specific feature
- Create regression tests for that feature
- Create a test plan
- Run those test
- Document the whole thing
Let’s say these sub-tasks are assigned to different people within the team based on their capabilities and availability. All these sub-tasks are needed in order to complete the story. We play planning poker with the team and assign story points based on complexity comparing with another story, right?
I’ve seen many cases where the team would not agree to create a story where several people are involved. Even if they play planning poker and agree on a size, the outcome would be a story for the coding and another one for QA (despite it’s waterfall ed).
Two stories with different sizes. And the individual assigned to that story would score the points if the story gets completed.
Moreover, an approach of an acceptance criteria with more people working in a single story seemed to worry my team. The question raised was But if we do not give points to the subtasks, how are we going to measure the individual capacity? It’ll also look like I haven’t been working in anything this Sprint.
I see why this is twisted. I really understand the concern behind these questions. But the story points should never, ever be used for individual capacity. The individual productivity can be measured in other ways, but not through the story points.
Let’s remember what story points are: a combination of complexity, effort and doubt, measured in relative sizing using an altered Fibonacci sequence.
Some stories are very easy but require a long effort (I.E. a very long but simple mechanical task), and others are complex but should be completed easily once clarified.
The purpose of the Story points is, simply, to measure as a team the effort required to implement a user story. It doesn’t relate to actual hours, but can be taken into account among the other factors. There’s no such thing as individual capacity with story points. It’s a team estimation that help everyone understand its predictability towards future sprints, hence avoid disappointments, over-promising and assess risks faster. All of this having into account that it’s just a forecast, and nothing else.
A basic example: during sprint one, a team completes a scope of 90 points. The next one, they only complete 60. Does it mean their performance is worse? Not necessarily. Maybe during the second sprint, the team had members on holidays or on training. Maybe there was a bank holiday. Maybe both. The question is: based on the average velocity during sprint one, and the focus factor expected during sprint two, did we have it all into account during sprint planning? Did we know that we would be delivering only around 60 points? That’s all that matters.
If we estimate that our average velocity is 80 points, but that our focus factor (that is, availability of the team during a specific period of time like a sprint) is reduced to 70%, then we can predict a range around 56 points. If the consistency of the story points is good and the team is cross-functional (that is another topic), there’s no reason why we shouldn’t believe in that assessment. And always understanding it’s a forecast, not a fixed figure.
And that is what story points are for. TEAM PREDICTABILITY. Not a video-game score. Not productivity measurement for yourself. Stop thinking that, if you complete x amount of stories, you will somehow be perceived as a more productive team member. It doesn’t work like that.
Define your own productivity. Measure your priorities, attend meetings assertively, take your time to self-develop, take your breaks, work on your team relationships, be analytical, remove communication barriers, give your 110% but never above that. You are entitled to have your bad days. Talk to your line manager and your team actively. You will realize that your productivity can be measured in many, many ways, but not through story points.