Story Points are Utter Nonsense

For over a decade, I've lived a lie.

I made myself believe that Agile Story points made sense.

I rationalised it like we all did.

"They map to complexity, not time".

Yet we spend hours on Sprint Planning meetings deciding how many jobs we can fit into a Sprint - a unit of time. Also - doesn't complexity relate to time?

"They're a rough guide, they're not supposed to be accurate."

How on Earth did we end up with a unit of measure that is "not supposed to be accurate"?

"It depends on experience of the person doing the job."

This is like saying the length of a centimeter depends on the tape measure you're using.

"They're a measure of relative complexity."

Relative to what? Another story you did which didn't have an accurate estimate?

"We use shirt sizes/Fibonacci/animals/fruit."

Is this supposed to make it easier to understand? Why can't I give a task 4 points?

"We have to agree on size before we can move on."

Yes, let's ensure the contractor watering the plants gets a say on this.

"Planning poker helps us find a consensus."

 I guess it does, once everyone is worn down enough to just agree.

A recent discussion highlighted the absurdity. I asked people to define what story points were, and just like the multiple meetings I've had over many years, it was clear that nobody could agree.

I got the usual selection of contradictions and confusion.

  • Story points have no unit of value
  • Story points are a non standard unit of value(?)
  • They're team specific, so they don't map to anything
  • They don't map to time, but they do map to a sprint, which is time
  • They map to complexity, but how much depends on the experience of who is doing the job, and the maturity of the team, which changes over time.
  • They're only supposed to be used for Epics, and Stories are estimated in time
  • A Story point is like a chicken

Yes, that was a legitimate answer from someone attempting to explain what a story point was.

It's like a chicken.

This is a real thing a human said:

"I once had a Scrum consultant working with our team who said a story point can be a chicken if you wanted. Find a story that the team can say is a very simple piece of work and call that your chicken. This chicken is then 1 story point. A story that would be twice as difficult or complex would be a two-chicken story (or 2 story points). It's over-simplified, but perhaps you get the point."

Erm, sorry, but I don't think I do...

Agile is a cult. This is evident in the explanations which pervade this space that are often repeated ad nauseam. One of these explanations becomes our rationalistion: "It's Agile. It's flexible - you can do it how you want."

It's time we admit that it doesn't work and it's really just a cocktail of nonsense, designed to put a framework around what is, in the end, an impossibly hard thing to plan.

I'm going to invent a new system of organising workloads. You have planning meetings once every 13 days unless there's a full moon. In those meetings you can play Snakes and Ladders to determine the "relative complexity" of a ticket. Then you throw that number out, and just do the job anyway. Every 15 minutes someone has to stand up and shout "Bingo". Then someone else picks up the ball.

Actually, this makes as much sense as our Agile rituals, so it'll probably take off.

I apologise to the workers of 2040.


Popular posts from this blog

Foundations of Humane Technology - Course completed

Writing Good Acceptance Criteria