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What’s in a story point? Achieving consensus over compromise

Matt Turrell, April 28, 2017

There’s no doubt about it, sprint planning sessions can sometimes get a bit… tedious.

Lots of talk and not much coding doesn’t always make for a chirpy team by lunchtime.

Depending on the team size and personalities, some things which I’d assume would be a quick conversation followed by a decision can become drawn out.

Story point estimation 1

Something I’ve learnt as a Scrum Master is that consensus within a team is much more valuable than compromise.

If you bring the whole team along on the journey, rather than forcing a compromise, what results is a great team bond, strong commitment to delivery and a shared understanding each sprint of what they’re trying to achieve and how.

The difference between each team member’s communication style can be dramatic. I’ve frequently worked with teams with people near both ends of the introvert / extrovert spectrum.

Just because someone is quiet, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a valuable perspective to add to a conversation. Just as someone who is on the louder side doesn’t have all the answers (or perspectives).

By facilitating a conversation in a sensitive and patient way, you can help the whole team understand all the perspectives and achieve consensus.

Sometimes, I do this to further consolidate team collaboration, mutual respect and team spirit, rather than just to get a decision on the matter at hand.

An example of this occurred in a recent planning session. As a result of playing planning poker, there was some debate about whether a story should be estimated as 2 or 3 story points.

Story point estimation 2

It was a large group and I allowed the conversation to go on for 10 minutes or so.

An old fashioned way of looking at this would be to equate that time to one ‘person-hour’ of work, for a conversation about a single story point.

However, the value of this exercise wasn’t in obtaining a super-accurate story point estimate (an oxymoron anyway), it was in deepening team communication and the team bond.

The developer arguing for the lower estimate was making a valid point about referring to our benchmark user story and helping the team properly consider what was required to implement the story.

Story point estimation 3

When the team re-voted, they arrived at a consensus of 3 story points. Everyone had had a chance to voice their view, had a clear understanding of how they’d implement the story and an understanding of the risk level associated with it.

Value for both the sprint (and therefore project delivery) and for the team, all in 10 minutes.

I recommend always aiming for consensus over compromise. This will take a bit longer, but it’s worth it.