Nowadays most high-quality software products are developed based on agile, iterative software engineering practices, based on methodologies like DevOps (Development and Operations), Scrum, Kanban, and XP (Extreme Programming). These agile methodologies plan, organize and execute the development work based on the so called “user stories”. To this end, they employ various agile estimation techniques.
User stories in agile projects are short, simple descriptions of a feature of the software system, which is seen from the perspective of the person who desires the new capability. In most cases, this person is a user or customer of the system. User stories are typically described based on simple templates that specify the type of user, the goal that the user wants to accomplish, as well as the reason why the user wants to achieve the specified goal. Here is what a user story template is likely to look like: As a [type of user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason]. User stories emphasize the ‘why’ behind a feature, rather than focusing on technical details. Hence, they provide a common language for the development team, stakeholders, and customers to discuss requirements and collaborate effectively.
User stories are an essential component of the agile development lifecycle. As already outlined, they serve as the foundation for planning and prioritizing work. They help teams understand the desired outcome of a feature from the end user’s perspective. When planning a project based on user stories it is important to be able to estimate their implementation timeline and cost. This is the reason why the agile software development teams use a variety of techniques to estimate their cost effectively. To choose and apply the right technique, agile development project managers and software developers must first understand the importance of estimations and what they are used for.
User story point estimation is a crucial step in the agile process, as it directly impacts project planning, resource allocation, and overall project success. Specifically, estimating user stories is vital for the following main reasons:
Overall, user stories are a very useful tool for agile project management. Project managers can use the cost of the user stories as a metric for planning and delivering their project within the available time and budget, and with very high quality.
There are several techniques teams can use to estimate user stories. Here are some of the most popular methods:
In conclusion, estimating user stories is a critical aspect of Agile Development, as it helps teams prioritize work, allocate resources, and plan projects effectively. By using techniques such as expert judgment, analogy-based estimation, planning poker, t-shirt sizes, or affinity estimation, teams can improve their estimation accuracy and set themselves up for project success. While the presented techniques aim at rationalizing the process of user stories estimation, it is widely acknowledged that the estimation process involves both art and science. Developers can sometimes intuitively and experientially provide very good estimations of user stories. Sometimes these estimations can go against the total number of software elements (e.g., user interfaces elements, business logic components, database connections) that these stories comprise.
In an era where most large scale and high-quality software systems are developed as agile projects, software teams had better invest in improving their user stories estimation tools, techniques, and practices.
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