What Are Story Points? Everything You Need To Know

What Are Story Points?

First, let's define what story points are. When your sprint is in the planning stages, you'll decide what you need to complete the project. This may need to be amended along the way, but it gives a good indication of what needs to be done and how long your team will need for its completion.

Story Points Are Units Of Effort

One way you can address the needs of a project is by breaking it up into clearly defined tasks. And this is where story points come in. But, what are story points? These describe the effort that each task takes, as opposed to the time it takes.

Story points are units of measurement of the effort that is estimated to be required for each task.

How Are They Estimated?

Story points are, to put it simply, estimated units of measurement that you integrate into the user stories of your project's story map.

That implies that they can be quantified. So, how and when are story points estimated? Isn't this highly subjective? Yes, it is a subjective exercise, but there are a few simple guidelines. Let's examine when they come into play.

When Are Story Points Estimated?

Every project is made easier with a user story. This is the synopsis of the customer's product requirements. This story must answer three questions: who, what and why. This is then translated into a story map.

The User Story Needs A Story Map And The Map Needs Story Points

Story mapping usually involves outlining a new product that you intend to launch or the addition of a new feature to an existing product. This visual exercise helps your team to plan and prioritize tasks necessary for the completion of the project. These tasks are further categorized into smaller steps and sub-tasks.

This is when the story points come into play. What are story points in relation to the overall story? They are the tasks within the tasks. The bursts of energy and effort within each story.

What Are Story Points Good For?

Now that we know what story points are, and how they are estimated, a bigger question arises. Why do we need them? Of course, anything that allows you to better plan your sprint is a useful tool. But can a project be successful without story points? What are story points' roles in a project?

Let's look at the top reasons why your sprint team should be using story points.

A Clear Overview Of What's Needed For The Sprint

Story points give you a good overview of what is needed to complete a project. The effort involved will determine the resources you need, and the number of team members necessary. It can also give you a basic idea of the time you'll need to complete the tasks.

It can be daunting looking at a project and wondering how it's all going to get done. Your customers and other stakeholders will expect a basic outline of what you intend to do, and how you intend to achieve it. More than that, your team needs to know what is expected of them.

Story points make it easier for teams to understand what they need to accomplish.

More Realistic And Reliable Than Setting Conventional Time-Based Deadlines

Although story points can give you a guideline as to the time you'll need for a project, they are more realistic and reliable than time. Setting conventional time-based deadlines alone doesn't take into account what you need to accomplish in that time.

Some tasks are more demanding and take a longer time than others to complete. This is where story points can be of greater use than time slots. It's far easier to compartmentalize a project into tasks than time.

Story points give an alternative view of a projected timeline.

Easier Scheduling Of Project Stages In A Sprint

Naturally, this leads to easier scheduling. What are story points if not a scheduling tool?

Should one of your team members not be present for certain stages of the project, your workforce will be smaller for a particular task. This can be addressed by implementing more, smaller story points at that stage.

The same goes for the resources your team needs. If certain data or other needs can't be supplied at any time, less can be accomplished until it is available. This will affect the number and size of story points.

Story points allow you to schedule each stage of a project with ease. They also allow for flexibility.

Accurate Yet Adaptable Measurements

Story points can be accurate, yet they are so adaptable. You can tailor the number of story points for each project, and each phase of that project. Outside factors, including the difficulty of a sprint, may affect its success.

By implementing story points, team members will feel more motivated. They will feel able to succeed.

Enables Improved Planning For Future Sprints

What are story points good for once a sprint is complete? They point the way to future sprint planning. Let's explain.

Each project is different, and hence each sprint is different. But, with time and experience, you'll get to know how much effort each task may require. This also guides you as to how much time each task may require.

The successful implementation of story points can help you get things done in a sensible, logical fashion. But they also teach your team what they can do when under pressure.

Therefore, story points are a useful teaching tool for sprint team members. They make future sprints easier to plan, based on the knowledge of how much time typical story points take.

The Difference Between Story Points And Hours

A project can be measured in time, for example in days or hours needed to complete it. But story points are outside of the concept of time. They are the measurement of effort, and this is not as clearly defined as time.

How do we marry these two concepts, and do we need them both? Yes, story points and time allocations both have a role to play in any project. They exist independently but also work together to give a holistic view of a story.

Can Story Points Co-Exist With A Time Schedule?

What are story points' commonalities with time? They help you to break the project down into manageable sections. They coexist with but are not bound by time. This is because the effort required for any given task may take more or less time than the effort required for another task.

This is also highly subject to the size of your team, as well as the resources they have at their disposal. Thus, story points may differ in the time they take, from one task to another as well as from one project to another.

How Story Points And Time Work Together

Story points and timeboxes are different tools used to divide a project into manageable sections. This is why a sprint typically includes both story points and timeboxes. Ttimeboxes govern the time you allocated to each task, whereas story points address the work to be covered in each timebox.

How Story Points And Time Measurements Differ

While timeboxes are objective time allowances given to each stage of a sprint, story points are not. They are subjective and adaptable. There may be several story points in any given stage of a sprint. Therefore, one timebox for a sprint stage may include many story points.


How many story points can your team deal with in one sprint? How quickly can they complete all the tasks at hand to wrap up a user story? This is your team's velocity.

How Do You Estimate How Many Story Points Are Needed?

Story points are not an exact science. They are an estimation. And like all estimations, they are only beneficial if you use them as a guideline. Don't be too caught up in the time it will take to complete a task. Look at the different items on the to-do list for each project, and assess the effort required.

This will possibly give you an indication of the time needed. But more than that, it will allow you to allocate the correct resources and workforce for the project at hand.

Story Point Estimations

Story point estimations can be arrived at in several ways. Some teams use a numbering system based on Fibonacci sequences. Others use more basic numbering methods. Whichever one works for your team, is the right one.

Estimations of story points should be universal throughout your project. Switching from one system to another will confuse your team members, and negate any benefits that story points would've offered you.

A Nominal Scale Is The Easiest

Assigning a number or any other label to a story indicates the degree of effort it will need. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, a "1" could mean a simple task that is quick and easy to complete. A "10" could indicate a far more demanding task in terms of labor, time, or resources.

Therefore, your team would be able to manage the "1" in less time and with less effort than the "10".

Your estimations will soon show some common threads. If you have dealt with a particular task before, you may already have a value assigned to it. This can help you estimate story points far more quickly in the next sprint.

It also allows you to give relative stakeholders an estimate of the time it will take to complete a project when all story points are looked at together.

Are Story Points Always Necessary?

Story points are invaluable when planning out your story map. That said, are there times when you won't need to use story points? Yes, there are. Here are some examples.

When You Don't Need Story Points

A quick recap. What are story points? They are a measurement of the effort required for any stage of a project.

Different tasks that arise during the planning and carrying out of a project may be assigned any number of story points. However, not all tasks need this.

Some tasks may be small, or very easy. They don't necessarily need to have a story point assigned. Story points are more useful for planning complex tasks, especially those that the team is not familiar with.

Also, bear in mind that virtually any project will have unforeseen bugs in the system. If you are unsure of the cause (or how long it will take to fix), it will be difficult to assign a story point to it.

Story points are necessary for more complicated tasks, but you don't have to use them for simple things that one team member can achieve quickly. With time, you'll learn to differentiate between tasks' effort requirements and become better at story point estimation.

Final Thoughts

What are story points? They are the estimations of the effort required for each stage of the project. And while these can be highly subjective, they are a useful guide to what is required of your team every step of the way.

When planning your sprint for a project, there are different ways to assess what will be needed from your team. There's the actual workforce, data, and tools needed to initiate it, and of course the approximate time you'll have to set aside for it. But you'll also need to address the story points.

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