Agile Planning without Points

Hilda the ChickenHilda the Chicken

POINTS = £’s (or hours or days)

Of course they don’t but I constantly see points being abused within organisations and becoming currency for staff manipulation.

“the team only delivered 17 points this week when they said they’d deliver 20. Can the team work the weekend to make up the points they owe us?”

Sound familiar?

On my current project we don’t use points. We simply relatively T-shirt size our stories. This allows us to very quickly size the stories and not waste too much time on estimation. We still have a burn-up chart but it’s based on the number of cards delivered to live irrespective of card size. Here’s what the burn-up chart looks like:

Burn-up Chart

On this chart we are plotting orange line is scope (number of cards), grey line is required velocity if we’re to hit our target date (number of cards per day), and green line is actual velocity (number of cards in live) – providing us with some insight into the likelihood of making our target date.

The obvious problem with this approach is the false sense of progress if you play all the small stories first – essentially saving up trouble for the future. This is where a bastardised adaptation of the Yamazumi concept comes in.

In Lean manufacturing there’s a concept called Yamazumi. It’s basically a graphical representation to aid in creating balance between operator cycle times. With balance comes reduced variation. With reduced variation comes better predictability. To ensure we get the right balance of story sizes played we created a kind of Yamazumi chart:

Yamazumi in Kanban

From this chart we can see the spread of stories in play and appreciate the balance of stories. From the example above I would be encouraging the team to play a large story next.

WARNING: selecting stories based on size rather than business value is wrong. In our current situation the backlog is stripped right back to Minimum Viable Product which means all of it needs to be delivered to create value. This allows us to use story size as a factor in the selection discussion.

2 Comments on "Agile Planning without Points"

  1. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for this – I particularly like the visibility the burn-up graph provides. We too have moved away from measuring progress in terms of ‘Story Points’ delivered and more towards the number of Stories delivered; although each Story is t-shirt sized, we try and write the Stories in such a way that they all end up a similar size. It’s not easy and we’re certainly not there yet but we continue to experiment. I wrote a blog on similar lines to yours covering our experience of not estimating during planning so share this to inform the debate:


  2. Hi Paul, totally agree with trying to keep stories to a similar size. Also, great article on your blog which contains further useful insight for others faced with similar challenges. I just stumbled across this from @Neil_Killick on Twitter:

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