Why use Story points or Time for resource tracking


For: team leads and Entrepreneurs

Running a service oriented business isn’t the same as running a product oriented business.  There’s a major difference and over the course of time I’ve learnt where the differences are when it comes to resource tracking, and how that may or may not affect your business.

Resource Tracking based on Time (more service oriented)

Pros:

  • enables to have specific billing, which feature costs how much money exactly
  • prospects and invoices can be compared to see how budgets are met
  • you can track individual progress and troubleshoot on real fine level when things aren’t going well
  • works exceptionally well for time-to-time small ad-hoc services

But the cons weigh more heavy:

  • time tracking is a pitfall for managers to start micro-managing
  • it kills creativity
  • it drives quality down (you assess on time, not on result)
  • there’s large amounts of overhead and overthinking for the developer
    was I effective this 15 minutes? And, I had to google a lot for this feature, should the customer pay for this?
  • employee satisfaction but also effectivity is strengthened when the employee feels at comfort. The best idea’s come to you when you’re not actively trying to solve something. Opportunity for relaxing is in that sense just as important for the employer than the employee (mind you, there should be a good balance here. Of which part of can be obtained by having a good thorough intake). When the employee has to meet up to the set 8 hours of his job he’ll feel at discomfort when he sat down and stared out of the window for half an hour, even though this time might have solved lots of other stuff. At the end of the day he or she will start with creative bookkeeping which will result in lots of negative energy that could have been used for positivity.

Resource tracking with story points (more product oriented)

When you start resource tracking with story points:

  • all points will be relative to one another.
  • developer doesn’t have to think about the client. They just have to think about what it’s relatively costing to another task
  • tasks get easier separable, since they can now be defined without having to speak in understandable business terms.
  • story points have relative value. This eliminates that the speed of the individual developer is weighed in the estimation
  • more focus towards quality

But how do you sell this:

  • Measure in Complexity and Uncertainty, not Effort
    • Complexity consists of how hard it is to clear the job. E.g. it touches lots of repositories, we have to align with lots of people and the subject is very delicate. This would be a high complexity.
    • Uncertainty gets weighed in, because it is key that during grooming sessions this factor gets reduced to a minimum. The more certain something is, the smaller the task can be, the better it is estimable but also deliverable for the allocated number of story points. So if either your PO or yourself don’t have high confidence and feel uncertain how to solve the task, you should start splitting what is clear and what isn’t, to maintain deliverable stories. External dependencies are uncertainties as well.
    • Effort gets pulled out. It’s silly to do simple stuff for lots of times and your customer shouldn’t have to pay for silliness. This is where you have to play smart, and say: changing all files by hand would take me 10 hours, so I will have to write a converter that does exactly this, this and that, which will only drive up the complexity, and thus the investment in to getting this topic solved.
      By doing this, you get rid of your legacy topics. Programmers should be lazy and automate everything they can. This should be part of the routine, because your PO ‘pays’ for your routine. Just be cautionate to not over-do it.
  • Each team will start establishing a baseline of story points that they can process in a time slot. This is your so-called ‘velocity’. You can easily divide the time over the storypoints and see what the cost would be.  Because your team is focussing on what it would cost in relative terms, instead of fitting deliverance of functionality in a timeslot (which is doomed to fail), you can calculate the cost to analyse ROI versus expected delivery date. You could then also decide to buy from external sources, since you have a good idea what it would cost doing it in-house.
  • Run through the story and write down all steps that need to be done. Now everybody should have a ground level understanding of how to solve this story. Buy a set of scrum-pokercards, count down and let everybody throw down a card. No significant differences? Quickly reach consensus and take the average if no-one objects. Some super high or super low? Let them explain and let the team learn from this perception.

Conclusion

As you might see I’m in huge favor of working in a product oriented environment. This is not always a possibility given your business model and current list of clients. If you would like to go with story points, but your clients are not ready yet, try to do this:

  • find a good size client, preferably one that favors on-time delivery more than super-detailed invoices. You need one or two good sized ones, because this will work best when you allocate one (or preferably multiple) full sprint with a complete team on this.
  • build a business case, show them your intent to deliver more consistently and be willing to invest a bit yourself. You can decrease your own investment over the course of time, but all process changes suffer from inertia so give it some of your own momentum.
  • learn from your first couple of attempts. It is more key to persist in the process than to immediately have the good numbers.
  • make sure you deliver, so make sure you have small stories with almost no uncertainties.
  • Once you have a basic idea of how much the team can do, commit slightly under it and use that room for delivering quality and optimizing your process. This allows you eventually to move the baseline up

You’ve now done what a developer would do. Apply an abstraction layer over business metrics in order for the team to work with their own currency. You’ll have a more productive, more motivated and more reliable team as a result.

Any thoughts? Let me know!

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