User story sizing: “Estimates are relative”

If there is one space where I use power play as an Agile Coach is when any new team is ready to play planning poker the very first time.  I don’t let them use the poker cards till the very last minute, and that too only to pick a number for a story. They have heard about poker cards, or used them before in earlier projects… or had a glimpse of it in their recent training.. They are ready to discuss Fibonacci series, and present their case and are ready to tell amusing tales of past experiences with sizing.

Not yet I tell them.  We can do all of that during the 2nd session of story sizing.

I just follow a simple practice.  I randomly pick at-least 14 stories from their backlog (upto 26 at a time works too) and divide them into two groups. The team is also divided into two groups.  Managers, Scrum Master, Business… everyone present is allowed to participate in this session. Teams have to arrange the stories from left to right .. smallest to the biggest.

They have to focus on only question while arranging the stories: “How long will it take us to complete the story from start to finish?” .  I dissuade them from assigning complexity points

Once they are done with their story cards, teams switch sides and discuss the sequence / arrangement of story cards by the other team.  They ask questions, negotiate, recommend changes to the order…

Once their questions are answered and teams are satisfied with their order, they pick a mid point story.  Though I recommend them to pick 5 or 8, some teams pick 3 or 13 too.. depending on the stories that are on the left and right! They then assign a number to all of their stories (yes, they can have multiple stories with the same size…)

After this comes the most fun part. They have to discuss each others mid point story and agree on the mid point for their combined stories….  Now they arrange their entire set from smallest to biggest.  They have sized their first set of stories, constantly keeping in mind that estimating is relative.

For a fun loving young team, we actually only used animal pictures first time around.

Value add:

Teams understand that “completing a story” includes the whole package and not just coding or just testing (In large scale distributed Agile, we still have specialized team members)

They learn that one teams’ mid point story is not the same as the others’. (Thus, each team is unique – and in large scale Agile, this sets the tone for not to compare velocity from one team to the other.

They realize the underlying principle behind story sizing …”estimates are relative from one story to the other”

They do not need their Agile Coach from the next session onwards. Oh and b.t.w I end the session with a note that going forward Managers, Scrum Master and Business / APO do not get to size stories.

Session introduction: 5 to 10 minutes (incl team and story division)

Discussion and arranging stories:  20-30 minutes

Identifying mid point and giving it a number:  5 minutes

Reviewing the other teams’ sorting / negotiating and rearranging:  10 minutes

Comparing the mid-point and settling on an ideal mid point story : 5 minutes

Merging both their stories and assigning values:  20 minutes

Session closing: 5 to 10 minutes

Total time: approx 90 to 120 minutes.