ScrumButt Test (6): Estimates created by the Team

Another installment on the ScrumButt Test.

So, the next item on the test says: “The Product Backlog has estimates created by the Team.”

Why is this important and what does it mean?  Let’s consider the meaning first.

So, normally in Scrum estimates mean estimates of relative size/complexity in Story Points. See Mike Cohn’s book:

Each story (or any story in a Release Plan or Product Road Map) needs a story point estimate. You can’t bring into Sprint Planning stories without Story Points. No, no, no. (If the Story is discovered in Sprint Planning, that’s a bit different.)

And these estimates are created by the Team of implementers. Those who will do the real work.


Well, estimating my own work gives me much more motivation and responsibility. Another reason is to appreciate how my work interacts with the work of others. If the Story Points come from some other person or group, they don’t have the same feeling or impact.

Yes, there is a downside. Not every Team is equally good at estimating. But we are convinced that the negatives are more than offset by the positives.

Usually only the Team knows what they really can or can’t do very well.  So, only the Team can do relative estimating.

Another key reason for this item on the test is how we will, later, use Story Points to know velocity. And how we will use velocity for many things, from which I will highlight three:

  • Tell some managers: “Look at our velocity. We are going at 20 work units per Sprint. Stop hoping and dreaming that we will go to 40 work units just because it’s wanted. It’s magical thinking and it ain’t happening.  Trying to make it happen is just making things worse.”
  • Tell ourselves: “Folks, we’re going at 20 Story Points, but we need to do better. Let’s identify a top impediment and FIX IT. So that we can go to 22 or 25. Now! (Not by working harder (or more hours). “
  • Face the truth. Velocity is a way to help us all face the truth.  And take action. (Ex: With our impediments, the velocity is only 20 — someone is going to ask: “Ok, what do we do about it?”)

That’s some commentary to start. Now put your thoughts into action.


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2 thoughts on “ScrumButt Test (6): Estimates created by the Team

  1. CodeDog

    What really happens when managers ask for 40 points per sprint when the normal velocity is 20 is this:
    Everyone try’s really hard and you get to a velocity of 30 for a couple of sprints. Then the velocity drops to 15 for the next 4-5 sprints as you deal with all bugs introduced because of the rushed code.
    Management complains about the low velocity and about bugs making the customers unhappy.
    Developers then start using point inflation to get the higher velocity numbers management wants while actually working slower than in the first place, Code quality goes up and managements magical thinking gets satisfied for a while.

    1. Joe Little Post author

      Ho CodeDog,
      Well, the first thing is that managers do not get to ask for 40 points. A manager may of course say: “Why can’t you [the Team] improve your velocity?” Which the team should already be trying to do.
      And then the manager can help with the impediments.
      We do NOT increase velocity by working harder (more hours) or ‘trying harder’.
      It may be that by focusing better we can improve our velocity. But we have to be realistic, that in innovation work, people need some time for the mind to float, to come up with innovative ideas.

      Still, often the mind floats too much, and what happens is…nothing. That is, some ‘floaing’ may only really wastes time.

      I recommend you (or you all) use any tool well, and use it appropriately. Use velocity well. And do not let people use it inappropriately. Yes, it is true a person can use a hammer to hammer his thumb, but I do not recommend that.

      And of course I cannot guarantee that any tool will not be misused. You must explain to the Team how to use it. And also you (apparently in your case) must explain to the managers how to use it (how to use the velocity concept). And how not to misuse it.

      This can be hard for many reasons. One possible reason is that the conversation needs to start from respect. The Manager must respect the Team, and equally the Team must respect the Manager. I doubt I have to tell you that this is not always the case.

      Good luck with that. It is not easy, but it also is not impossible. If you have a really bad manager who will not listen to reason, then I recommend you change jobs. (Of course, you knew that was the right thing to do already.) I can tell you that not all managers are the same. (If you have had 2 or 3 bad managers in a row, I understand you might be discouraged.)

      Regards, Joe

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