A field report by Katey Berg, BT Agile Practice Manager
I recently had the pleasure of guest speaking at DePaul University’s Software Projects for Community Clients I (IT394) class.
Michael Chase, the instructor, uses the agile framework to guide students through building software projects for school-selected clients. The class is studying Agile and Lean (a flavor of Agile) and learning how to apply them on real world projects with legitimate non-profit clients who are expecting a final product at the end of the cycle. The students have been taught the tenets of agile and the purpose of all the ceremonies, their benefits, and their outputs.
The day I was there, the class was learning about story points and estimations, a core idea of agile frameworks. I saw the small teams of students struggling with story pointing and wanting to apply hours instead a “random number” since that made more logical sense to them. One student asked if it was acceptable to point a story higher to be on the “safe side” since it was all just a guess anyway. The teacher admitted that selecting a random number to that piece of work is deceivingly useless, however it serves more of a purpose than people realize.
Story pointing and estimating help form a body of work and over time assist the team in seeing how much they are able to get done in set time boxes. This allows team to more accurately estimate future pieces of work and be able to set a clearer client expectation based on those estimates. This does get more complicated when the team changes or there is new work that the team has not seen the likes of before. I have often seen the agile teams at BT struggling with story pointing and how to do it well. It seems that teams want to learn how to do it “right” and be able to repeat it the same way every time. Story pointing, like many other areas of agile, is a process that can and should be iterated on in order to improve it over time as new pieces of data are often used to make the practice as accurate as possible. It was exciting to see the students learning agile from the beginning at such a formative time in their lives and knowing that they will enter the workforce with the knowledge of a framework that takes many people months to learn and years to master. As a Scrum Master, I find it hard to explain what my role is and what specific job functions I perform; it was refreshing to step into a room of people that knew what my role was and be able to speak in agile terms and be fully understood. I look forward to seeing these agile practitioners in the workforce in a few years.