Agile story estimation exercise – Sheds

After the Storm, New Romney United Kingdom – Zoltan Tasi
After the Storm, New Romney United Kingdom – Zoltan Tasi

Some time ago, I came across an excellent exercise to help teams understand and practice how to estimate the size of their stories based on a dog grooming parlour.

The idea was that once the team had base-lined their estimates by agreeing on their average (5) sized dog, they could then start to estimate the relative size of various other dog types.

Typically, I get teams to estimate the relative size of work closer to their context or work with a backlog of stories that they have created over the course of a workshop. However, sometimes you just need something quick and simple. In those cases, this exercise was ideal.

I used this exercise for a while but became uncomfortable with it as the term “grooming” fell out of favour in the UK. We now talk about Product Backlog “Refinement” for example.

After a little thought, I hit upon a theme that would appeal to the increasing number of students who didn’t have a technical background. Sheds!

Everyone knows what a shed is right? Most people will have one and some may even have built one.

So I quickly pulled together a random selection of images of sheds. It was important that they were a combination of sizes, styles and complexity.

The setup is this:

Imagine you are a team working for a company that manufacture sheds. It is what you do. You have been building sheds for years. What’s more, you are often asked to build sheds to new designs.

To help you and the rest of the business plan future work more effectively, we are going to use an Agile estimation technique involving story points.

Once we have agreed which of the sheds we have built previously is an average piece of work, we will assign that 5 story points. An average piece of work might be one that takes a couple of days of effort and isn’t particularly complex.

We can now start to look at our order book. I.e. pictures of sheds that we have been asked to build over the coming weeks and perhaps months.

As the trainer, I now display one forthcoming shed design at a time and work through the voting process (with or without poker cards) and subsequent discussions.

If I am using this exercise rather than estimating the size of stories from their own backlog, this tends to be quite short exercise and therefore we only estimate the size of three or four stories (sheds).

Initially, I was just happy to have devised a simple, non-technical, exercise that effectively demonstrated the process of story size estimation. However after only a couple of attempts, I discovered something unexpected that I will take credit for regardless.

When estimating the relative size of the third shed (top middle in the picture below), some students point out that the shed is actually on site with working electricity, whereas our average shed appears to be outside the factory.

This introduces a dimension that you don’t get with dog grooming.

i.e. Yes we can build and complete the shed but we might also be responsible for delivering, installing, and connecting the shed to the electrical and water services.

If we hadn’t had chance to discuss the Definition of Done so far in the workshop, this provides the perfect segue.

I’m pleased with this exercise and will shortly build an improved increment by creating a set of laminated cards. Each with a picture of the shed and accompanying acceptance criteria.

Please feel free to give this exercise a try.

I have included a PDF of the presentation deck below: