Are Story Points still relevant?
I've read several articles and blog posts recently which have been questioning the need for story points and estimating techniques such as planning poker - Indeed the last last few conferences I've attended I've partaken in several conversations on this subject - #noEstimates
It seems that in some parts of the agile world these techniques are becoming more and more frowned upon and in some cases ridiculed!
I must make a confession that even I have a blog on my backlog discussing the merits of forecasting verses estimating but after reading yet another anti-estimating blog this morning I thought it was time to come to the defence of group based estimating processes'!
Many of the articles I've read and people I've spoken with dismissing the need for estimating, velocity, story-pointing, etc are working with organisations who have a very high level of agile maturity, they are probably working with a Kanban based model and thus have been able to make the switch from estimating to forecasting delivery dates.
However for many companies who are looking at becoming Agile to just turn around and refuse to give estimates or size work is just not going to go down well! Whatever the merit's of such an argument.
I see Scrum as very much a transformational change process - It's brilliant at encouraging the cultural changes that organisations need to make that mental mindset transition - And in my experience that process very much includes Story pointing techniques.
When dealing with Product Owners or Stakeholders you need a mechanism to force meaningful conversation and negotiation. I'm sure we've all been in meetings where the customer wants everything on time and on budget but history and experience shows us that that IT projects very rarely manage to deliver that dream.. and at some point pragmatic decisions will be taken.
By applying an estimate such as story points we're able to make those user stories negotiable... By tracking our velocity and doing burn-down charts we have metrics we can use to predict early failure giving us time to renegotiate our minimum viable product - or look at ways stories can be delivered with less effort or sometimes... to just put our hands up, fail early and re-plan!
I was in a meeting recently where the Product Owner was adamant that he wanted everything delivered.... By explaining (albeit several times) that the team velocity was X and the remaining backlog size was Y and no matter how-many times he said "It just needs to be done" the numbers didn't work eventually forced him to renegotiate what was required.... Once we were able to discuss the backlog again sensibly with estimates and velocity figures we were able to remove what wasn't really required and focus on what was! In an organisation that is 'Agile' through and through the PO would have already been thinking that way... but in companies who are still on that journey these techniques are very powerful to 'force' these conversations and allow teams to express reality with some metric backed evidence.
I've been able to use Story points and velocity figures numerous times to force a conversation with sometimes very angry managers, product owners and stakeholders which I wouldn't have been able to have done without those numbers to backup my argument - Doing so has allowed us to recognise potential failure early and to strip down stories or remove features to ensure we deliver.
Personally I'll use both forecasting and estimating techniques depending on the customer and the scenario - It's about having the right tools that allow you to deliver and for many organisations story pointing is an excellent method.