Agile Estimation Units

Which agile estimation units should you use? You can use any arbitrary units to estimate backlog items in an agile project. It does not matter if you do your estimation with story points, ping pong balls, man days, man hours, kLoCs. After a while your teams will converge on a common understanding of what the units mean.


I should mention that there is some controversy about this. Some agile thinkers agree with me that the units are arbitrary. Others strongly believe that only arbitrary units work

Agile Estimation Units for Sprints vs in the Backlog

Sprint estimation is done based on tasks rather than backlog items. Perhaps there is a case for using hours instead of story points as agile estimation units in sprint planning.

Coffee Cups as Agile Estimation Units

Since the units of estimation are arbitrary why not use coffee cups? Coffee cups are good as more work requires more coffee. Harder work requires more coffee. Over time requires a lot more coffee. Coffee cups, like backlog items, come in different sizes. Are your items espressos or pots of weak coffee?

Coffee cups as agile estimation units.Source: Tim Holmes | Flickr | CC BY NC ND 2.0

If a team used coffee cups as agile estimation units, how big would this backlog item be? By Tim Holmes, on Flickr. Used under CC BY NC ND 2.0.

Another advantage of coffee cups as units of estimation are that they are readily available when you need them. Estimation and follow up is mainly done in some of the agile meetings. And in all those meetings, there are plenty of coffee cups.

I have recently revisited this topic in a new blog post.

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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...

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