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Sizing Pumpkins

Understanding relative sizing and story points

1 November 2017

Adam Palmer

Story points are a fantastic way to estimate the size of a task.

Estimating with story points helps improve team collaboration and cross-functional behavior. They allow different people with different capabilities, experiences, and disciplines to come together, discuss a task, share ideas and concerns, and estimate the amount of effort to get the task “Done.” These conversations are a core part of working in an Agile Team.

However, many new (and not so new) team members frequently slip back into thinking about speed, e.g., “If Dev 1 did the task it would be 13 points, but if Dev 2 did the task it would only be an 8.” This would be problematic, as bottlenecks would soon appear if only specific developers could work on specific tasks. We have to remind ourselves that Scrum is about the team, not the individual. We’re not estimating the speed but the size of the run.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across another great example of relative sizing that has stuck with me. It was getting close to Halloween and I had just been pumpkin picking with my children. The girls were keen on finding the smallest pumpkins in the whole field. I, however, wanted the largest!

When it was time to pay, I pushed the wheelbarrow up to the exit. There was a long table with several groups of pumpkins on it, to demonstrate price. The smallest pumpkins were on the left. They were all different shapes, sizes, and colors (apparently not all pumpkins are orange!), and these were labeled £1.

To the right, there was another group of pumpkins. Again, there were different types, heights, and weights. But they were all around the same size. These were labeled £2. This trend continued, and each group of similarly sized pumpkins were labeled with a larger number.

Although the pumpkins in each group were all different, they were similar in size.

Groups of pumpkins on a table

The tasks in your product backlog will also be different but probably a similar size to other tasks. It doesn’t matter who buys the pumpkin or how quickly they can carve a face into it. What matters is that the size of the pumpkin is relatively the same as the others in its group.

To put this analogy into action:
  1. Start with a group of medium-sized pumpkins/tasks. Let's call that 8 points.
  2. Then create another group that’s about half the size of the first. Let’s call that 4 points.
  3. Next create a new group that’s roughly double the size of the first group. Let’s call that 13 (I said roughly).
  4. Continue doing this until you have groups for the following numbers: 1, 2, 4, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100.
Congratulations! You have now estimated your backlog using pumpkins — I mean, story points.

As for me, I went home with an “Epic” pumpkin. . . .

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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