On Point…s

You have something you want to do. You’re doing it for a reason (it has value, or benefit) and it doesn’t come free (it has cost, like time or money or focus). Generic enough of a start for a blog post? Good. Let’s talk Scrum.

You have a story. It has a benefit (business value) and a cost (effort). The backlog is a list of things to be done (stories), where this list is ordered (prioritized) by business value (fine, personal value since we’re in ScrumOfOne-land, or just value), with the highest / most important at the top. Each story has points associated with it, representing effort.

Business value is represented by backlog priority. Effort is represented by story points.

This is simple. This is Scrum101. And this is something I didn’t fully get until the Product Owner training last week. From this simple and clear concept, I am amending how I’ve been doing my ScrumOfOne.

More important stories are not ‘worth’ more points. How much a story is ‘worth’ is represented by its position in the backlog (be it the Sprint backlog or the Product backlog) and by this qualifier ONLY. Yes, the more valuable a story is, the more effort it might be, but not necessarily. For a recent example, I look at how I handled stories related to getting the Product Owner training.

I started with an ‘epic’ (just a large story): Become a Certified Scrum Product Owner. Then I broke it down to investigating the training options & timing, signing up & paying for it, getting reimbursement paperwork underway at work, and attending the classes. The epic, though important and thus close to the top of the backlog, is too large to fit into a Sprint, so it was broken down. Of those stories, ‘attending the classes’ was relatively the easiest (least effort): just show up! Of those stories, ‘investigating the training options & timing’ was relatively the hardest (most effort): spend time.

These stories, in retrospect, in and of themselves do not require a lot of effort, so they should not get a lot of points. Yes, working towards another Scrum-related certification helps me in better crafting this ScrumOfOne idea and improves my marketability, but this does not mean it gets lots of points. Instead, it gets a better/higher position in the backlog.

In the business world, coming up with a value per story means find the dollar value. In the world of personal development, coming up with a value per story is… harder. In both cases, this is one of the jobs of the Product Owner: prioritize the backlog, i.e., identify the value (thus, relative value) of each story.

With my example above, I would say this set of stories had high value and low effort. One would think these types of stories would be ones to do first – prefer to implement stories with the highest benefit to cost ratio. Or I could just look at the title of slide #52 of the slide deck from last week’s training:

Prioritization of Business Value / Effort Can Cut Cost and Time to Market by 50%

Filtering out the MBA-speak, this might look like:

Prefer to do the coolest stuff that’s not that hard to pull off.

And this starts with getting the idea behind ‘points’ straight.