Agile 101 – Story Points Lead to Velocity and Rhythm

Agile 101 – Story Points Lead to Velocity and Rhythm

One of the unique aspects of an Agile project is that the workload for each iteration is determined at the beginning of each iteration. In other words, the workload is not laid out months and months in advance. There is only a need to plan for the current iteration. This allows the Agile project to be very flexible.

At the beginning of every iteration a meeting is held between the product owner and the project team to determine the workload for the new iteration. The product owner owns the product backlog, and prioritizes the work on the backlog. The project team owns the work of each iteration, and pulls off the next set of user stories that are of the highest priority. The level of effort for each user story should have been assigned when it was added to the backlog. There should either be an actual estimate of effort hours, or more likely a number of “story points”. Story points are numbers used to estimate the relative size of a user story.

During the planning meeting, the project team takes on as many story points as they can complete within the iteration – in priority order. In this way, the product owner is always assured that their most important needs will end up in the final solution.

It is important that the project team determine quickly how much work they can complete in each iteration. This will allow the workload to stay relatively constant from iteration to iteration. If the project team finds that it was not able to complete all the work in the prior iteration, the team can agree to take on less work in the next iteration. Likewise if the team realizes that they could have done more work in a iteration, they should take on more work in the next iteration. This pace at which the team can complete story points from the backlog is known as the team “velocity”.

User stories that are selected for a iteration need to be completed in that iteration. In a traditional project, you might delay a milestone or implementation if all of the work is not completed. However, in an Agile project it is important to stay on a steady iteration cycle If the story is not ready when the iteration is ready to move to production, the code needs to be pulled out so that the code from the iteration can be released on time. There are no delays to the iteration completion date. The team picks enough work so that it can all be completed in the iteration. The team then focuses on hitting that end-date over and over and over again. This steady pace for each iteration is also known as the team “rhythm”.

Story points, velocity and rhythm. These terms are unique to the Agile model. Now you know what they mean and their importance to a healthy Agile project.


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