Story Points are Only for the Team

Reading time ~ 2 minutes

One manager says to the other…

My team’s doing an amazing job, in 9 months we’ve increased our velocity from 28 points per sprint to 65 by changing our development practices and adopting XP.

Now we do TDD, pair programming and relentless refactoring. Better still, we have story kick-offs and the team swarms around a single story until it’s complete. We all do the scrum-ban can-can to get ready-ready for done-done…

That’s nothing says the other manager, we’ve just increased our velocity by 1000% in one sprint with only one change to our practices!



We added 3 extra zeroes to every story point estimate.

Believe it or not, this really does happen in some organizations although usually much less extreme and obvious. Story point inflation becomes more common when velocities are compared either across teams or reported through management.

Q: What’s the best way of increasing a team’s velocity?

A: Use it as an external performance measurement.

The same issue holds true for the total number of stories completed.

Q: How do you make your teams complete more stories?

A: Make stories smaller.

It’s a a well-known fallacy that using story points for anything other than a team’s own diagnostic for tracking their progress towards a goal is risky.

Also bear in mind that if you’re using velocity and story points the way many of us have been taught then you’ll be using historic averages rather than ranges. If you examine the probability curves of historic averages, there’s a strong possibility you’ll only hit that forecast velocity 50% of the time. (I’ll expand on this in a more detailed article on estimation)

Do not confuse story points with being anything other than an internal diagnostic to the team and don’t confuse numbers and “data” with meaningful feedback.

If you want to measure the delivery success of the team, focus on what was actually delivered.

Ask stakeholders and customers for feedback – frequently.

Try a simple Net Promoter Score style survey or even better, be lean and “go see”. If you can’t go see, get a video testimonial from the “customer”, play it back to the team and the management.

It’s a lot harder to distort the meaning of a recorded conversation than metrics.

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