This past weekend was our third weekend of using our family Kanban board to get household chores done. And in terms of work completed, it was an impressive weekend, with a total of 28 points done. But. Yes, there’s a but.
We didn’t immediately start using points – the first two weekends our focus was on getting the kids used to the whole idea of the board. During the preceding week, I started adding points to new cards on the board in preparation for the weekend.
On Saturday morning, Number One rather indignantly pointed out a flaw in my pointing system.
Enter the ever-present agile debate on the best way to size stories …
I had pointed the stories based on a typical adult perspective. For example, the Recycling story was assigned 2 points, since it really isn’t a big job for me – merely sorting the week’s recyclables into separate bags for delivery at the depot on Monday.
If you’re seven and passionately hate separating the recyclables, it’s a different, uhm, story. He insisted that it was worth 5 points. Of course I thought that’s too much. So the negotiation (anybody hear planning poker?) started. We eventually agreed on 4 points – bigger than Vacuuming (3), but smaller than Weeding the garden (5).
Brilliant, I hear you say. A perfect illustration of relative sizes at work! I wonder. I came away from the weekend thinking that our experiment is showing up a fundamental assumption (and problem?) on agile teams that use abstract estimates of size:
For relative sizes to work as a comparative measurement, you need to assume a homogenous, cross-functional team where everybody is equally equipped to deal with the work.
But in real teams, like in families where adults and children share the work, this is not always (often?) the case. If we keep insisting that story size should be relative, are we not ignoring a reality that some teams need to deal with? Especially those that are still making the transition from a traditional SDLC approach to Agile?
If our estimations can’t deal with widely different skillsets effectively, are we not just blindly drinking the koolaid?
In our case, we can’t ignore the team composition. And since the idea is for the kids to be rewarded for the points they complete, the system must be a fair reflection of the effort they feel went into the work.
We now therefore point stories based on their perspective. The stories us adults do count towards the number of points achieved (velocity), but we don’t earn tangible rewards for them. Which is fine, since we don’t set store by stars and faux gemstones that represent a monetary value.
Of course this does mean that our team velocity will often be superficially high as a result. But – and here we have come full circle on the agile story size debate – as long as we apply the same relative scale consistently, this doesn’t really matter. After all, it’s all relative.