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Jonathan Hall
Jonathan Hall

Posted on • Originally published at jhall.io on

Rose bushes and story points

Yesterday my wife asked me to dig a hole in the garden so she could plant a rose bush. No sooner had I grabbed the spade than my 16-month-old son came over to help.

A few minutes, and a scraped knee later, we had successfully dug a hole.

This got me thinking.

A task that normally would have taken me about a minute, tops, took about 3 minutes. And I probably exerted double the effort, since rather than just moving some soil, my concern was moving soil slowly and deliberately in a way that gave my son a sense of participation. And my son exerted significant effort of his own.

As I’ve been thinking about story points lately, I saw a parallel.

Had I estimated the hole-digging task before hand, perhaps I would have assigned it a value of 1 story point.

But with my son involved, how does that affect my estimate? Let’s consider three options:

  1. 1 Story Point It’s the same task, whether I do it alone, or with the help of a trainee
  2. 3 Story Points By involving a trainee, we can expect the task to take 3x longer
  3. 8 Story Points To reflect the aggregate effort and increased complexity that comes from involving a trainee

I find this an interesting thought experiment, because whatever answer I come up with, I can see it conflicting with common advice about story points. If I say 1 story point, because the task is the same, then I’m admitting that story points don’t really reflect effort or complexityβ€”a trope we hear constantly.

If I say 3 story points, then I’m essentially saying that story points are just translated to time. While this makes a certain sense, especially when trying to estimate for the sake of business schedules, it also violates the common trope that β€œstory points do not equate to time!”

So 8 story points it is, right? But this makes our estimates entirely subjective, depending entirely on who is doing the work. It also makes comparison of story points (whether over time, which is often an anti-pattern anyway), or just relative estimation much harder, because like stories won’t have like story point values.

What do you think? I’m running a poll on LinkedIn, and your feedback is welcome!


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