Agile Software Development

Should You Use Zero-Point Estimates on Your Product Backlog?

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you assign work on an agile project that grants zero velocity points, does the work matter? These are the deep philosophical questions that haunt a man to his soul. Fortunately, Mike Cohn has written a post that rather cleanly clears up the latter question, so that you can feel slightly less haunted.

Half-Haunted, Maybe

Cohn asks us to imagine a backlog item that demands 15 minutes of work to complete. Regardless of how long it takes to complete though, the item matters, and thus it might seem reasonable to assign it one point of value. However, this extra point could be misconstrued as the team having picked up its pace, and those who dictate the expected velocity in the next sprint could take this new pace to be the norm, even if such a pace is in actuality unattainable. With that in mind, it is most fair to just assign the work zero points, and the team probably will not mind absorbing the bit of extra work.

Cohn goes on to reflect on the situation in this way:

The value of a product backlog item is independent of the work to deliver the item. Think of the relationship between calories and the size of a food item. There really isn’t any.

I remember when one of my daughters was young, she came home from school fascinated by the idea that celery has so few calories in it that we theoretically burn more calories chewing it than are in it. So, I could have a massive bowl of celery and consume very few calories. The same size bowl of ice cream would, unfortunately, have many more calories.

When it comes to backlog items, zeros can still be heroes. You can read the original post here: https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/should-you-use-zero-point-estimates-on-your-product-backlog

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