User Story Sizing: Why You’re Doing it All Wrong and How to Better Weigh Your Story Points - 7pace
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Published:Aug 09, 2022

User Story Sizing: Why You’re Doing it All Wrong and How to Better Weigh Your Story Points

It’s like eating pie. The best way to tackle a huge task is to break it down into smaller slices.

That’s why agile teams divide every development project into story points. Each story point represents a planned feature that’s part of the product roadmap for the software project. Figure out how long it takes to finish a story point and you’ll have a timeline for the entire project.

Of course, you’ll still need to decide how much time to allocate for each story point.

Story sizing is the systematic process of estimating the time and effort required to complete each user story. It often involves using strategies like the Fibonacci Sequence to make rough estimates about the effort needed to develop a feature or fix a bug.

But the problem with rough estimates is that they’re just that. If you want to be serious about improving your estimation process, you need a solution for gathering actionable data and turning it into insights for your development team.

Simply put, you need a clear window into your team’s productivity that doesn’t involve guessing.

In this article, we want to tell you all about our best long-term solution for sizing user stories. Let’s go over everything you need to know to develop a user story estimate, which can then be used to plan entire iterations and estimate the complete project.

5 Simple Steps for Conducting User Story Sizing in Agile

Agile estimation is not a one-person show. It takes data and input from the entire team to conduct successful story point estimation. Thankfully, 7pace has a proven process that you can follow for the most accurate results:

Host a Planning Session

The first step to kicking off the estimation process is to host a discovery session. Sit down with your team members and product owners to develop a product roadmap and chalk down the entire list of story points.

The discovery session offers a great opportunity to talk face-to-face with your team about any challenges or bottlenecks in the development process. This is your chance to get direct input from the people involved in seeing each individual story point to completion.

If you’re having trouble coming up with the best way to conduct a discovery session, take a look at some of the gamification techniques you can use, such as planning poker and t-shirt sizing. These will keep things organized and prevent the entire session from devolving into total chaos.

Establish Your Baseline

Use relative estimation to kick off the planning process. Instead of asking your members of the team to offer timeline estimates right at the start, ask them to simply “guess” the amount of effort a story will require with relative sizing.

Start by identifying a base story. Ideally, that’ll be a simple story that the team has already completed and feels very confident about. It’ll serve as the foundation for the estimation process as other stories will be graded based on how they compare to it.

For example, if a certain story point feels more complicated than the base story, it’ll probably take longer to complete and require more effort from the team. You can use numbers to grade each story point based on how it compares to the base story.

Create an Estimation Matrix

Now that you have your baseline, you can create an estimation chart to grade other stories in relation to it. The base story is graded as 1, indicating that it’s the one that took the least amount of time and effort to finish.

From here, you can rank other story points based on their increasing complexity compared to the established baseline. For example, if adding a new button has a complexity of 1, then creating a user portal can have a complexity of 8.

Make sure that each story point is graded not only in relation to the base story but also to other stories you’re trying to estimate. Creating a simple dashboard should not have a higher complexity rating than developing the entire portal, for example.

how to create an estimation matrix

Use Your Historical Data

Without proper historical data, your software development project estimates are little more than crude guesswork. If you want to establish a reliable baseline, you’ll need to collect data on your team’s performance in past projects, iterations, and stories.

The best way to collect data is to measure the amount of time taken by your development team to complete each user story from project to project. The more data you have, the more likely it is that your future estimates will be realistic and accurate.

Want to collect time-tracking data on individual stories without leaving your development environment? 7pace is a time-tracking tool that works directly inside Azure DevOps and GitHub. You can collect hourly data on each story and receive useful insights into your performance.

Establish the Story Sizes

With an estimation technique backed by historical data, you’re now ready to size each agile story based on the amount of time it’s expected to take. As you collect more and more data on your completed projects, your estimations will keep getting better and more accurate.

Use your time-tracking data to identify patterns in your team’s performance. Then look for ways to improve team efficiency by removing bottlenecks and solving problems. With proper data to guide your estimation process, you’ll never run over your estimated budget.

However, don’t get carried away with the data and always ask for feedback from your team. Just because you as a project manager think something should take less time to complete, doesn’t mean it always will. Incorporate stakeholders into the planning process to get the best results.

7pace: The Ultimate Time-Tracking Solution for User Story Sizing

TL;DR: You need data to get better at estimating agile projects.

This data comes mainly from time-tracking tools, but most time-tracking tools are built for either invoicing or micromanagement. Reliable solutions meant specifically for software development project managers are practically non-existent, at least until 7pace.

At 7pace, we’re a team of software engineers and project managers who grew tired of the way project estimation is handled at most software agencies. That’s why we built a time-tracking tool that goes beyond tracking the amount of work to offer detailed insight into the time spent on each story point or project iteration.

Our big idea? To empower software developers and project managers to get better at story sizing and sprint planning without having to rely on guesswork.

That’s why 7pace integrates seamlessly with your development environment, whether that’s Azure DevOps, Azure Boards, or Github. You can track hours, collect data, and view insights without ever leaving familiar territory.

Want to take 7pace for a spin? Download the extension today and start empowering your story estimates with actual data.

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