Definition of… Story Points

I have combined personal insights for fixed price (-negotiable scope) projects with practices from eXtreme Programming and Scrum in my My.Fragility framework.

The main estimation steps from the framework’s Product Backlog Estimation model were highlighted in my Definition Of Agile Planning. But the model also implies at least an understanding of some definitions.

After my definition for User Stories here’s how I use Story Points:

  • Story Points equal ideal time (“ti”). But using ‘Story Points’ might prevent people from confusing it with realistic time. The eXtreme Programming notion of Gummy Bears (“Bg”) might be a bit too abstract, although it’s fun to use.
  • Ideal time is the development time for a User Story without breaks, questions, problems or interrupts of whatever nature. Spending every minute of every working day on productive coding.
  • Ideal time is mulitplied with Velocity (“v”) to estimate Planning time (“tp”). In my experience, an overall velocity of 2,5-3 results in a realistic number of planning days.

planning time (“tp”) = ideal time (“ti”) * Velocity (“v”)

  • An alternative definition of Story Points is the number of productive coding hours per day. This is generally accepted as maximum 5-6. Velocity is then expected to be around 1,33.

Note I generally apply an overall Velocity to all User Stories, although my model allows a specific Velocity per User Story, e.g. depending on the expected complexity.

Definition of… User Stories

Over various projects I have applied a set of Agile practices from eXtreme Programming and Scrum. Adding personal insights to specifically handle fixed price (-negotiable scope) projects resulted in my My.Fragility framework.

The framework includes a Product Backlog Estimation model, for which the main estimation process steps were highlighted as part of my Definition Of Agile Planning. Furthermore does the model at least imply an understanding of my definition of a User Story:

A User Story describes a feature from an end-user perspective. It is independent of software layers or parts of the project

A User Story can be explained as an essential Use Case

A User Story should be INVEST to be ready for development

  • Independent: User Stories have as little interdependence as possible. Resolve it by putting related Stories in the same Sprint
  • Negotiable: a User Story is an invitation to discuss implementation. The best design and code result from communication!
  • Valuable: a User Story represents effective business value for an end-user
  • Estimatable: the size and knowledge on a User Story is sufficient to reliably estimate the Story
  • Small: a User Story is small enough to be estimated, developed and tested. It is comfortably realizable in one Sprint
  • Testable: a User Story has a clear result that can be tested

eXtreme Programming Revisited (part III)

Extreme Programming InstalledWhen reviewing Chet Hendrickson’s paper on the evolution of Extreme Programming practices, I was surprised that he completely ignored Kent Beck’s revision of 2004. As does Ron Jeffries’ practices representation, by the way.

Ken Beck - Extreme Programming Explained5 Years of eXPerience resulted in a complete revision of Extreme Programming Explained. The general tone softened, partial adoption became acceptable and the practices were extended, and divided into primary and secondary practices. Maybe Kent considered XP as under-adopted, but I missed the strong and ahead leadership from v1. No compromise. Working software is the goal. Extreme focus. Programming is the way.

I also felt that in the v2 edition, good ideas were introduced, but good practices were also replaced. Because I instantiate Scrum’s engineering standards with logo-myfragilityXP practices in my framework My.Fragility, I decided to merge the best of both:

My.Fragility Grafx - XP Practices

Note: when checking the original Extreme Programming Installed book myself, I wondered (after all these -6- years!) why it did not mention the Coach role. When moving to Scrum after our ‘pure’ XP application, I kept promoting this role. I still do in my My.Fragility framework (on top of Scrum’s Product Owner, Team and ScrumMaster).

And I still don’t known why User Stories was not an explicit XP practice from the beginning…

eXtreme Programming Revisited (part II)

Extreme Programming InstalledTo review Chet Hendrickson’s retrospective paper on his book Extreme Programming Installed, I went back in time myself. Back to my first experience with Extreme Programming.
In September 2003 I was asked to urgently take on a project as project manager. Customer approval was late but the predicted delivery date remained (December).

A 15 min introduction convinced me of eXtreme Programming. Because so much was incorporated that was traditionally so easily forgotten or overlooked. We convinced management, and off we went (October). After 3 iterations (of 3 weeks) we delivered… in time and on budget!

Kent Beck - Extreme Programming Explained (Embrace Change)Because I considered myself too illiterate (after all, we only did it) to present the project at Javapolis 2003, I started reading some books. The inevitable Extreme Programming Explained (‘Embrace Change‘), Kent Beck and Martin Fowler - Planning Extreme ProgrammingPlanning Extreme Programming and… Extreme Programming Installed. It was remarkable to find that our ‘naive application’ was an extraordinary match with what I was reading. Presentation went very well.

In 2004 I started using Scrum as process and certified as a ScrumMaster. During follow-up projects for our satisfied customer we kept combining Scrum and XP. However, we had to operate within a context of realizing a (negotiable) scope in a given timeframe. So along the way (2004-2006) additional practices, tools and views were embedded, to finally become my My.Fragility* framework.

The framework holds following (partially XP based) Quality Loops:

My.Fragility - Quality Loops

Implementation of Engineering Standards. To be performed every day:

  • A pair writes all code upon a Test First basis (including Selenium GUI tests)
  • Checked in code is tested in a Continuous Integration system (multiple times a day) and can be refactored
  • A ‘guide’ (additional, explicit role) functionally tests a stable, CI’ed version (multiple times a day) and feeds back results to the team
  • A functional working version may be deployed for performance testing (running overnight)

*myfragility_logo The name of the framework has its roots in the big relief I felt when morphing from project manager to ScrumMaster. The option to be fragile (agility through fragility), of not constantly having to intimidate people. Because, after all, it’s just a matter of talents and roles, not of… hierarchical slavery.

Introducing Scrum.org

Recently Scrum godfather Ken Schwaber resigned as chairman from the ScrumAlliance, which he co-founded.

Logo - Certified ScrumMaster SealI remember Ken from turning my ScrumMaster certification course in 2004 into a great experience. Not because of the certificate, but for comprehending Scrum. I’ve since then advised people to attend the certification course, but mainly to get in touch with other people and dive into the matter.

Scrum.orgKen launched Scrum.org as a move from ceremony and formal organization to process and community. From certification to assessment (for self-improvement). There’s an online Scrum Assessment (note: no longer available), upon a Scrum Guide. Because… “Unlike certification, assessment makes no public claim of competence and cannot be misused to assert qualifications that may or may not exist“.

I scored 69 out of 80 (86%), which took 25 minutes (1h allowed). This feels okay but the most important aspect was that through the reflection on some missed points I could improve my insights.

“Although there’s value in certification, assessment is valued more.”

Definition of… Agile Planning

In The adoption of Agile I stated that ‘Agile’ is not one method, but a set of common principles and practices. The same goes for ‘Agile Planning’.

I created my My.Fragility framework iteratively over the various software development projects I mastered, all serving to realize a (negotiable) scope within a certain timeframe.

The included Product Backlog Estimation model allows to:

  1. Write User Stories. Or Epic Stories
  2. Make up estimates in Ideal Time / Story Points
  3. Determine Velocity. Possibly, but not advisable, per story
  4. Determine #pairs. Consider project elapse time, max = 6
  5. Determine #FTE for umbrella tasks. Upon #pairs and complexity
  6. Set daily rates
  7. Set slack, holiday percentage and coach development
  8. Assess result & iterate using other parameters
  9. Set Value of Stories. Total to be 100 (for relative tracking)

The Product Backlog Tracking model implements my Tracking Loops:

My.Fragility - Tracking LoopsThis assures a continuous image of spent and expected progress, effort, budget and delivered value, at Product and at Sprint level.

Mike Cohn - User Stories AppliedThe book User Stories Applied by Mike Cohn was a great source of inspiration. Essentials I still use are:

  • User Stories, Epic Stories and micro (tiny) Stories
  • The INVEST acronym
  • Complexity scaling. I use ‘1-2-5’ (over Fibonacci)

Mike’s publisher (Prentice Hall) has made 2 chapters of his second book Agile Estimating and Planning available, for F R E E:

The adoption of Agile: TALC vs. Hype Cycle

An interesting poll was posted at Scrumology asking us to indicate where we consider ‘Agile’ to be on the Hype Cycle. A little note…

logo-myfragilityThe presentation of my framework My.Fragility starts with a general introduction on ‘Agile’ before diving into Scrum and going beyond. This introduction ends with a maturity assessment of Agile using Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle. The conclusion is that Agile has Entered the Bowling Alley (so has definitely Crossed the Chasm).

In 2008 I added a comparison with Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Application Development, which puts Agile in the Trough of Disillusionment and predicts a period of 5-10 years before mainstream adoption.

Agile on the Hype Cycle for Application Development 2007 (Gartner)

However, having studied and compared both models I am convinced that Agile is -at least- on its way to the Slope of Enlightenment:

Agile on the Hype Cycle vs. TALC

Other objections I have with Gartner are:

  • Agile is primarily the common denominator of a number of methods and is as such not one defined method. As a practitioner of Scrum, combining it with XP and going beyond with My.Fragility, I believe these methods to be certainly farther in adoption.
  • A complete Agile approach covers a number of practices and disciplines that Gartner separates (e.g. various testing levels). See my indications on the Hype Cycle.
  • My intuition and daily experience contradict the 5-10y expectation.

Challenge: from the TALC I expect Scrum to become the Agile Gorilla