anchor We had to re-boot our approach to Sprint Planning today due to concerns over the way Story Points had distorted our planning sessions. Estimation is a key feature of planning in Scrum and is based on the Wide Band Delphi technique first identified by the Rand Corporation. The Story Points in themselves should have little intrinsic value in the Planning session and simply act as a facilitator for discussion to identify risk or a lack of understanding of requirements. The real value of Story Points lies in the ability to predict Velocity, allowing the Product Owner to perform Release Planning.

Story Points had distorted our activities by becoming a major focus of the planning sessions with an adherence to previous known Velocities. The team lacked the freedom or opportunity to take a common sense or commitment based approach. In short the Story Points had become the main discussion topic when making the Sprint commitment, rather than looking at the work itself.

How did we re-boot the session?

  1. User Stories presented by Product Owner
  2. User Stories tasked up
  3. Planning Poker – Story Points written on the back of the cards
  4. Sprint Commit – User Stories committed to based on content not Story Points
  5. Story Points exposed

I was discussing the session with @cootetom and he pointed me in the direction of an article on Anchoring which was fascinating.

“Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.”

He correctly pointed out that Anchoring was playing a part in disrupting our ability to estimate using Story Points. Following the process above we removed the Anchor from the Commit part of the Sprint Planning and prompted some fresh thinking.

I’m a firm believer in the value of Story Points and will continue to help the team use them in the most effective way. It remains a challenge to help team members divorce the relative nature of Story Points from absolute concepts like time. Several team members have confided that they make that conversion in their heads and then pay lip-service to a Story Point approach. The concept of Story Points will be an area of team development that I’ll be exploring in the near future.