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Backlog Item Sizing with the BreakFree SprintEstimator

The best teams mature through their use of Agile skills, daily standups, retrospectives, and planning sessions being executed by cross-functional team members, product owners, and stakeholders – all going in the same direction.

Sizing product backlog items (PBIs) is a scrum technique used during sprint planning. It allows cross-functional teams to collectively decide how many PBIs can be pulled into a single sprint — a two to four-week event in Scrum — based on the level of involvement an item calls for, and the amount of time and resource allocation needed for each backlog item selected. The result of this is a much more productive team.

When working with our clients, we used planning estimator techniques, such as PokerPlanning and Scrum Poker, to avoid struggles gauging the complexity and effort of a project task. Although these tools helped us produce the results we needed to, they were not exactly user friendly.

So, I saw an opportunity to go a different route. During one of our continuous improvement sessions (Retro) where our team gets together to figure out how we can execute better, I pitched creating our own sprint estimator tool, and our team was all-in on the idea. This would not only add convenience and consistency, but it would also allow us to add a few custom features.

The BreakFree SprintEstimator in Action

The idea wasn’t to recreate the wheel. We took the guts of an existing open-source tool and modified it with a few tweaks. This resulted in the creation of the BreakFree SprintEstimator. The tool allows our team members across all projects to access an environment that they can create and modify based on clients’ needs, and it gives us the stability of using a consistent utility when engaging in planning sessions. You can even try it yourself at this link:

The BreakFree SprintEstimator utilizes a card deck voting mechanism. Voting occurs in a virtual room created by the team leader. The virtual room is accessed through a unique room ID or URL that’s easily shareable among cross-functional team members. Once all voters have entered the virtual room, they select a card representing the difficulty of a task from easy to hard.

After voting is complete, the team leader reveals the result that’s the average of all votes. This average indicates the amount of effort required by the team to complete the task, which is necessary for planning the number of sprints needed.

The SprintEstimator supports Mountain Goat, Fibonacci, Sequential, and T-Shirt Size voting decks. Each deck also includes a card for team members unsure about task difficulty and a card for those who wish to abstain from voting.

The BreakFree Solutions team is always finding ways to continually support products, skills, and delivery capabilities. Building the BreakFree SprintEstimator was a great learning experience for our team, and it’s already helping us plan sprints in client engagements. Now, when our teams engage in planning events for determining group sizing for backlog items, they’re using the BreakFree SprintEstimator.

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