Sprint Planning: Hours vs. Points - 7pace
Published:Aug 23, 2022

Sprint Planning: Hours vs. Points

Accurate sprint estimates are key to any software development project’s success. But should you use story points or hours in your sprint planning?

If you’re struggling with this dilemma, you’re not alone.

While many think that story point estimations are better, it’s not necessarily the case. Both project management methods can produce accurate sprint estimates, although one may be more effective than the other for specific use cases. Or, you can even combine the two!

Let’s look at how estimating in story points differs from using hours and how to decide which methodology to use and when.

Story Points vs Hours: What’s the Difference?

Alright, this isn’t the first time you hear about using story points and hours in agile estimation. But do you know their pros and cons?

Using Story Points in Agile and Scrum Sprint Planning

Story points are an estimation technique based on relative efforts. The agile development team assigns each user story a number of points based on the amount of work required to build the features, the complexity of the functionalities, and the level of risks.

There are different ways to assign story points to an agile project (e.g., planning poker, t-shirt size, dot voting, etc.) depending on factors such as the number of work items, the status of the product backlog, and the stage of the estimation.

You may assign point values using consecutive whole numbers or the Fibonacci sequence, which is more popular because it leaves room for approximation.

best user story estimation

The Pros and Cons of Using Story Points in Sprint Planning

Story points for each work item are calculated as an average of the input from all the team members involved. The final estimate is less developer-dependent, giving you more flexibility when assigning tasks across the team.

You can better monitor the change in team velocity and readjust the development timeline more easily. You can also plan your sprints based on the capabilities of the whole team, instead of re-estimating when different team members take on a task.

Story points make it easy to understand how much work you can fit into each sprint. Moreover, you can re-use story points associated with similar work items to speed up the estimation process.

However, story points also pose some challenges.

Since the method is a relative estimation, it won’t be as accurate when a project consists of features you haven’t tackled before. There’s a learning curve in predicting performance, so the first couple of iterations could be less accurate.

While story points are more accurate in setting sprint timelines, it’s less convenient for estimating software development costs. For example, it’s harder to account for time spent on meetings, admin tasks, and research when using story points for specific work items.

Using Man-hours in Agile and Scrum Sprint Planning

Man-hour is pretty self-explanatory. You take a work item to a developer and ask them how long it’ll take them to complete the task. It’s a familiar way of creating estimates, and many still stick to this method.

The Pros and Cons of Using Man-hours in Sprint Planning

Most people, including clients and product owners, are familiar with planning projects with hour estimations. Using this method means you have to do very little explanation and probably won’t encounter much resistance to getting everybody on board.

Hour estimations are specific to individual developers. Experienced professionals can provide an accurate estimate quickly to streamline the planning process.

Using man-hours also makes it easier to manage a project against a budget, which for many, is more important than getting a precise understanding of how much can get done within a sprint.

But, of course, this method also has its shortcomings.

The hour estimation comes from one developer, so it could change significantly from one person to the next. Since you’re relying on one person’s perspective, the estimate may no longer apply when there’s a personnel shift—giving you less flexibility with staffing.

While it’s quick and easy to estimate the number of hours needed for small work items, things can get hairy when scoping a large project. It’s also harder to adjust your timeline halfway through development because it’s harder to match effort to velocity.

How To Choose Between Story Points and Hours

There’s no black-and-white answer to which method is better. Your choice will depend on the use case. So when should you use which one?

Product companies often prefer story points, while agencies or outsourcing service providers—which typically work with a fixed-price model—tend to use hours.

Go with story points if:

  • Estimating what features you can launch by which date is more important than sticking to a budget.
  • You have a long project with many product backlog items.
  • You need to account for many dependencies and monitor velocity throughout the project.

Hours may be your better bet if:

  • Staying within a budget is more important than hitting a specific launch date.
  • You have a short-term project and identified specific resources for the tasks.
  • You want to shorten the sprint planning process.
How To Choose Between Story Points and Hours

What if you could combine the two methods and get the best of both worlds?

Different teams can give you vastly different time estimates for the same number of story points. Is there a way to move fluidly between the two and still make accurate estimations?

Here at 7pace, we have developed a metric called “pace” to help agile teams connect story points with hours.

To calculate pace, divide tracked time by estimated story points of a work item. Each team has its own pace, which tends to gravitate toward a consistent number over time as you analyze more data from different projects.

pace formula

When you have a good grasp of what your team’s pace is, you can use the number to estimate the amount of time it takes to complete a task with a certain number of story points.

time required formula

You can also use real-time data collected during a sprint to verify that your team’s pace is consistent with the number you used in the estimation.

If the metric is off, you can raise a red flag early and adjust your project plan. You can also use the insights during retrospectives to help improve your scrum team’s velocity and inform how you plan the next sprint.

Accurate Historical Data: the Key to Accurate Estimations

Both methods have their strengths, and there’s no one definitive answer to which one is better. But here’s the catch: they’re only as good as the historical data on which you base the estimate.

Therefore, you need a time tracking system to collect granular data at the work item level.

With the data-driven insights, you can easily switch between the two methods, combine them, or convert one to another based on your project’s focus and objectives.

7pace Timetracker makes it easy for software teams to use historical data to estimate future tasks and convert hours into story points. You can track hours directly on Azure DevOps or GitHub and associate them with each work item for the highest level of accuracy.

Try 7pace to see how you can create better sprint estimates with accurate data.

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