Story Points - Equating Points to Time

Posted April 7, 2021 by Adrian Wyssmann ‐ 2 min read

There is often a huge misunderstanding what story points are, so let's have quick look at what they are

Until 21st of April 2021 mountaingoatsoftware.com is offering a Free Series of Training Videos on Story Points. The first video is called “Equating Points to Time”

Too many people try to equate story points to time, but that only causes problem. Find out why, and what you can do to stop this happening with your team.

The video explains it very well and I really recommend to look it. However I try to summarize the major points of the video as it may help you to remember:

  • Story points shall never equate to time
  • Story points shall not depend on who does the story
  • Story points are not complexity points

So what it is then?

it’s a relative, abstract measurement of the effort to do something

So yes, story points are about time - cause effort is the number of time units to do something. Still the emphasis is on relative and abstract measurement and not an absolute time. This can be illustrated with an example from the video

There are two runners on a trail:

  • an athletic runner A, which runs on a daily basis - she will do the trail in about 10 mins
  • a runner B, which recently started to run - he will do the trail in about 20 mins

So if they have to get a common estimate in absolute time, they never will cause for A the estimate will be 10 mins, for B 20 mins - and they are both right

They however can agree on something like “this trail takes me half the time as the trail before”

What can Scrum Master do to help the teams understand the concept of story points:

  • reset the understanding of the team, so they understand points are about relative, abstract effort
  • ask relative questions during estimation
  • use triangulating: compare a current estimation to a bigger item and a smaller item

Special thanks to mountaingoatsoftware.com for the free video.