What are Story Points?
Story Points is an estimation technique borrowed from our software friends. The idea is that a quick, non-precise point system can help a team understand how much work they can accomplish in a given cycle. This helps resolve two main problems that marketers face — too much work and lack of trust by stakeholders that marketing will deliver.
The point system comes from the modified Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical string of numbers that doubles in value on the low end and gets less precise as the numbers get higher. In both software planning and agile marketing, the exponential growth in the numbers reflects that more complex work has more critical unknowns. While the full sequence goes on a scale up to 100, we recommend simplifying the scale to avoid unnecessary complexity. Here’s our suggested sequence:
1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13
The point numbers are there to compare one work item type to another, allowing team members to have a conversation about strong differences.
For example, you may be talking about a celebrity endorsed Instagram promotion. A few team members may think it’s really easy and call it a “2”. Then, you may have another team member that says, “Hang on, getting a celebrity endorsement is a huge effort. When we tried to book Reese Witherspoon last year it took months of going back and forth in contract negotiations. Do we have a contract and just need to create the post, or does the work include booking the celebrity?”
As you can see, the effort required for creating the content and booking a celebrity would be a lot more than just the effort of creating the content. By having these early discussions, the team can make sure they have a shared understanding of the work and avoid either under- or over-planning.
Who can benefit from Story Point estimation?
Teams that are newly formed can really benefit from this technique. It’s a great way to get a shared understanding of delivering customer value as a whole, not just one marketer’s piece of the puzzle.
Story Point estimation can really help teams that are overloaded (isn’t that just about every marketer these days)? This technique applies data to how much work a team can take on at a sustainable pace, giving the team some well-deserved breathing room and stakeholders a higher level of confidence as to when their requests will be completed.
If your team is already proficient at quick delivery, isn’t overwhelmed, and has a good rapport with stakeholders about when work will get done, you probably don’t need this practice. Our 6 Key Practices are optional, so pick and choose the ones you think will give you the most bang for your buck.
Why Story Points are easier to implement on marketing teams
For decades, software teams have been under the gun to estimate and have been reprimanded when an estimate proved false and the work took longer to complete than expected. Stakeholders wanted less of an “estimate” and more of an “exact”. So when Story Point estimation started to become the norm with software teams, they had a lot of estimation baggage to deal with, and converting to a new system that’s quick and imprecise caused a lot of uneasiness.
However, in marketing, we’re mostly working with a clean slate. Marketers rarely estimate work, so there aren’t a lot of bad habits to break — only benefits to be gained.
How to conduct Story Point Estimation
To get started, you’ll be working off of your Marketing Backlog. Once this is in priority order, the team meets to start estimating. It may help to come prepared with the different types of work your team typically does, such as a blog, social post, landing page, etc. All team members that deliver work (including agency partners if they’re a big part of your delivery) should attend.
The team will begin by establishing a baseline. I find it works well to look at the easiest work item type first, such as a single social post and call it a “1.” Next, the team will compare the item at the top of the backlog to the social post. Everyone on the team should vote at the same time to see if you have some initial consensus.
Now, let’s say that your next backlog item is a blog post. Everyone would be looking at the numeric scale and comparing the effort for completing the blog post to the effort of completing the social post. A quick and easy way to do this with a remote team is to have everyone vote using the chat feature in Zoom, Teams or wherever you’re meeting.
Let’s say the team votes: 2, 2, 3, 3, 8
Since the twos and threes are pretty close, but the eight is an outlier, you’d want to ask the person who voted eight to share why they think it’s a bigger effort. This person may then be convinced that they voted too high, or the team may agree they didn’t factor in something and they should have voted higher. They may do a re-vote, or simply align on a number. This is meant to be no more than a five minute discussion, not a lengthy and heated debate.
After a team gets used to working together, they may establish their own scale — then estimation is really quick and easy. They may always call blog posts a three and unless the work is vastly different from the norm, they don’t need to re-vote over and over again.
Story Point estimation is meant to be fast, provide conversation among team members and establish how much work a team can do before burnout. If you haven’t done it before, give it a try. It just might solve some agile marketing challenges you’ve been experiencing.
Get the daily newsletter digital marketers rely on.
Catch up on the Agile Marketing Navigator series!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.