What to Do with Left Over Stories

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You get to the end of your sprint and there is that are 2 incomplete stories left on the sprint backlog. Story A is judged to be 80% done, Story B was never even started. What do we do with these stories?

Options:

  • Give 80% of the point value of Story A to the team for the current sprint.
  • Split Story A into smaller stories and take credit for the done work, push the next work into the next sprint.
  • Take both stories an re-prioritize them.
  • Automatically take the stories into the next sprint, no debate.
  • And many others I am sure are being practiced in companies today.

What Should Be Done

  1. No credit to velocity is given for either story.
  2. Re-estimate and re-prioritize the stories.

Why It Should Be Done

Story A

Story A was 80% complete. Incomplete work is not counted in the velocity because doing so allows the organization to consider work done that really isn’t.

Taking credit for unfinished work is the idea of Earned Value. Earned Value says because someone earned a salary for 3 days, the value of the final product or project went up accordingly. This is regardless of what the contributor did in those 3 days. This is obviously not a realistic notion given that Joe-Bob surfed the web for 2 of his 3 days.

Why do we re-estimate the work before putting it back into the backlog?

  1. Not doing so is unrealistic. The amount of work left to do to finish the story is hopefully less than the original estimate. The work remaining to finish the story is the real effort going forward. After all, some of the work is done.
  2. It is entirely possible the team has learned more about the work itself such that the estimate to finish is significantly different than the original. Remember that an estimate is always based on what is known at the time the estimate is given.

Re-estimate the story and put it back on the backlog.

Story B

Story B is simpler, but since it wasn’t even worked on why does it need to be re-estimated?

The real truth is that stories are often related, even though they are ideally independently deliverable. It is not only possible, but likely, that the team has learned more about the background of this work in the sprint that just finished. This means that a more accurate estimate is now likely.

Re-estimate the story and put it back on the backlog.

Bottom Line

No, you can’t take credit for partial work.

No, you can’t have credit for all originally estimated points in the sprint that finishes the job.

This model keeps things simple and keeps teams from gaming the numbers. Yes, I know successful teams that re-negotiate done. Yes, I know successful teams that split the story and only move part of it into the next iteration. I don’t agree that these practices are good, however. They relax the commitment made by the teams enough that the teams are basically allowed to get sloppy.

Keep it simple.

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The opinions and content expressed here are my own and not those of my employer.