Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Woodland Creature Story Sizing
I'm not a big fan of story "estimates". In my opinion, it conveys a notion of accuracy that simply isn't possible. I prefer story "sizes" instead…still not perfect, but better.
I'm also not a big fan of using numbers to size stories, again, because numbers encourage folks to do math that doesn't make sense.
So what do I recommend for sizing?
Here is my "normal" list:
The reason I like woodland creatures is:
1) you can't do math with them (though they do multiply!)
2) they imply a size or category, but not an accuracy, and
3) they keep the team from taking the activity too seriously, but differences in opinion still get discussed.
Personally, I've only ever made cards and used them for various planning activities. Others have suggested finding various animal stickers and sticking them right on the card (I like this idea but have never gotten the stickers). The list of animals obviously doesn't matter. They simply need to go from small to large if used for sizes, or any animals if you're simply assigning a category or class of work.
*Note: You may have noticed the last animal in the list above was a dragon, and might be thinking, "wait a sec! dragons aren't woodland creatures!"…and you would be right :) However, I usually reserve this special animal for stories the team think needs to be broken down further. Then we either assign a "dragon slayer" to ensure the story gets broken down, or we simply avoid it for now.
My preferred planning activity is "Creature Sizing". This is basically T-shirt sizing; assigning a category of work to a story. Select a handful of woodland creatures to use. Normally three is fine to start off with (I use Shrew, Badger, and Bear). Next, a subset of the team (about 3 members) is asked to discuss key points of the stories. If another team member with special knowledge is needed they are "tagged in" at the last moment. These team members then assign a woodland creature to the story. If the team is less mature or lacking confidence then the whole team could be used for this activity.
I should also mention, that when possible, I like the categories of work (and therefore number/types of animals) to emerge over time instead of selecting them up front. This isn't always possible if an entire initiative is needing to be relatively sized for a governance decision. Also worth mentioning is that this level of planning can be continuous, with little disruption to the team.
I've also used the woodland creatures with Planning Poker (my least favorite sizing game) and 1-N Table Walking (which I like better than Planning Poker, but still sub-optimal/less mature in my opinion).
So there is it! If you think your team or your product owners are getting too hung up on the "accuracy" of your "estimates" or start doing "crazy velocity math", consider using Woodland Creatures as an abstraction that may help :)
Posted by Matt Barcomb at 8:27 PM