An Alternative Way to Teach, and Estimate with, Story Points

I recently gave a lightning talk a few weeks ago at the Cambridge Agile Exchange MeetUp. The topic I covered was about an alternative way to teach and do story pointing. This alternative technique was something I came up with back in 2008. Why did I come up with a new way?Photo of JF Unson giving a lightning talk at CAE, 2020-11-12

Well, when I first learned about Story Points in 2005, the theory behind the method was easy to understand, but the actual practice of it was another matter. I wasn’t alone – my team was also having a hard time figuring out and how to actually do it. It took me about a year before story points really clicked in my head.

In addition, playing Planning Poker, especially for large backlogs, took a long time. Our team would get tired going through each item in the backlog. We’d notice we’d take short cuts. As a result, bad practices started cropping up. People would immediately give in and just go with the higher number. Or people would say “Let’s average story points” if people couldn’t agree.

When I was an Agile coach at Yahoo back in 2005-2008, I saw the same struggles with the teams that I was coaching. At that time, Yahoo was the first-ever company to roll out Agile to the entire company at enterprise scale. The teams easily understood the theory, but in practice, they were getting frustrated. For example, people found it hard to leap to story points, and so they were translating points into hours to kind of bridge the gap. The teams who struggled and persisted over time eventually got it. 

I told myself – there has to be a better way. Around 2008, I went to a startup. And in a moment of inspiration, I came up with an idea of how I could teach story points to my new team. I also came up with an alternative to Planning Poker. The new way of teaching and the new method of pointing worked very well. My immediately got it, and instantly understood the concept of story points. And rather than spending hours on backlogs, we actually got it down to 20 minutes or less. 

Since then, I’ve taught this at 3 other companies and found the same success. Here’s the video taken at the Cambridge Agile Exchange MeetUp. (If it doesn’t start at my talk, please fast forward to 24:42.)

YouTube player

If you want to teach it…

And for those of you who want to try this and teach this to your teams, here are the slides I presented that go with the video.


I’ll create a future blog post where using the above method actually enabled my teams to do no estimates. Stay tuned.

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