My Approach to Getting Refining Sessions Unstuck

What do you do when half the people think it’s 3 points, and the other half think it’s 5?

(Ooh, don’t share any more context – leave it there and just keep going!)

That’s going to happen. If I’m facilitating this Refining Session, I’ll ask one person who scored it a 3 to explain why, and then I’ll ask the same from somebody who gave it a 5.

(Aww, you explained the scenario… you could’ve let ’em writhe! You’re no fun…)

I’ll restart a vote, and hopefully this discussion has swayed folks to vote more similarly. But let’s say it hasn’t. Let’s say y’still have a roughly 50/50 split between the same two adjacent Fibonacci numbers. Fine. I then ask about the Fibonacci numbers on either side of those scores.

I ask everybody, “Could this be a 2?” then pause for their responses. I then ask, “Could this be an 8?” also pausing for their responses. What I’m looking for is not just what is said, but more importantly how it’s communicated. This what/how split neatly echoes a content/style split for you HTML/CSS folks, and a product/process split for weird Agilists like me. I lean on the greater emotional response to resolve this difference of opinion in the group.

So, if folks say half-heartedly, “Yeah, I guess,” when asked it’s a 2, but when asked about an 8, they say with some energy, “Naw, it ain’t THAT big… it’s not like the other 8s!” then I hear more emotion away from 8, thus between 3 & 5, I recommend a 3.

Similarly, if folks are energetically ‘meh’ about a 2, but all, “well, yeah, it could be a lot of work, it could blow up,” while nodding their heads a bit more about the prospect of it being an 8, then I hear more emotion towards an 8, thus between 3 & 5, I recommend a 5.

I then explain:

Because we don’t know how much effort something will take until we get into it, these story points are fuzzy.

If we say something’s a 3, then it will very likely end up being anywhere between a 2 and a 5.

If we say something’s a 5, then it will very likely end up being anywhere between a 3 and an 8.

So let’s get in the ballpark, let’s realize that story points represent how we’ve had a conversation about a story to get a better understanding of it such that we’re comfy enough to start, then let’s keep going.

(And then you launch into Bill Pullman’s, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!)

Sometimes, this cool trick doesn’t work, and after asking about the Fibonacci numbers on either side, there is no obvious emotional pull to either side, so I do my explanation and ask about the 2 & 8 again.

Double sometimes, we’re still stuck.

(So now what, hot shot?)

So after a vote, representatives explaining their votes, re-voting, asking about the Fibonacci numbers on either side, appealing, explaining the fuzziness of story points, re-appealing, and after still feeling stuck after four freakin’ attempts, I flip a freakin’ coin.

(Well, THAT was anti-climactic.)