Action Engineering Agile Mindset: Estimating Story Points

The Action Engineering team embraces an Agile mindset & Scrum practices in our work.
This series shares tips & coaching opportunities that work well for us.

If you had to guess, how long would it take you to…
  • Unload the dishwasher?
  • Make a cup of coffee?
  • Fold and put away a load of laundry?
I’m convinced the dishwasher takes a minimum of half an hour. Making a cup of coffee is easy, that’s a two minute task, no problem. Folding and putting away a load of laundry? This is one of my most hated tasks, so give me a solid 45 minutes for this one. 
In the spirit of Agile science and a bit of quarantine boredom, I did these three tasks and timed myself. Without even trying to go fast, I unloaded the dishwater in 7 minutes… 23 minutes faster than my estimate. Folding and putting away laundry took only 23 minutes (that was even with watching The Office in the background) so my estimate was off by 22 minutes. Making coffee took 8 minutes, so 6 minutes longer than my estimate.
Humans are notoriously bad at estimating and guessing time, yet we do it all the time. We are much better at estimating how difficult something will be. Story points help us disconnect effort from duration. So next time your boss asks when that TPS report will be done, tell her, “That task is 8 story points and it’ll be done by the end of this sprint.”
Action Engineering created a standard story point sizing guide that we use to make sure we speak the same story point language. Using this chart to size my three tasks, I would give brewing a pot of coffee a 2. I grind my beans and sometimes froth my milk so I could break it down into smaller tasks. Unloading the dishwasher is a 1 because it can’t be broken down further and everything has its place in the cabinets. Folding and putting away a load of laundry is a 5. Each load of laundry is completely different and each article of clothing could have different requirements…does it get folded and put in the dresser or hung up in the closet? If it’s socks, was the pair in this load or did the laundry eat the other sock?
Difficulty can take into account so much more than time:
  • the information you need to gather to do it
  • the other people you may need to involve
  • the recognition that a task requires uninterrupted work
  • the logistical complexity – do you need a special setup or login to do it?

Want to chat with us about how your team is practicing Agile in your MBE journey?
Send us a message!

Emily Cosgrove, Agile Team Lead


Agile Team Lead
Certified ScrumMaster®


Kate Hubbard, CMO


Chief Marketing Officer
Certified ScrumMaster®

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