Choosing better numbers

Photo by Amanda TiptonI was party to a wonderful exchange the other day. I was in a planning session, with the engineers estimating stories using story points. The product owner was fairly new to the process—especially to story points—and watched with interest as the team worked through his user stories and applied numbers to them. Then this happened:

Product owner: “So… smaller numbers are better, then?”

Business analyst: “No. More accurate numbers are better.”

I love this so much. First, that the BA didn’t just focus on the most immediate issue (getting as much done as possible) but rather had his eye on the bigger picture, and was more concerned with setting and meeting expectations.

Second it says that Agile is honest about the roughness of estimation. The numbers won’t be exactly accurate but they can more accurate or less accurate. In a past life I would take estimates and they would turn into predictions. (And then all-encompassing pain ensued when they inevitably turned out to be wrong.) Today we put some numbers down, draw a line, and say “something like that”. It’s a much healthier way to live.

I also like to think to think the product owner came away a more enlightened person. I know I walk a little lighter now.