Project Management

Constant Velocity is a Myth

Andy Berner is a Senior Software Engineer for QSM Inc. Andy is an experienced software architect with over 30 years of experience in all aspects of software development.

Is your agile team’s velocity constant from sprint to sprint? No? That’s not a surprise. Many teams assume that their velocity will be constant. In this article, we’ll see why that’s not the right expectation and how that affects how you use this metric.

What is Velocity?
Velocity measures the amount of work accomplished in your project over time. In agile terms, this is how much of your release’s backlog is completed in each iteration. Velocity is measured in whatever unit you use to estimate stories; for example, story points per iteration or the count of stories per iteration.

Teams often assume that their velocity will be nearly constant, although most teams know that the velocity in early iterations may be lower than later ones. Since all the sprints are the same duration, this amounts to assuming that the team will complete the same amount of the backlog in each iteration. However, that’s not the way real projects work! To see the significance of this, we need to look at how velocity is used.

Uses of velocity
Teams use velocity in three ways:

  • Iteration planning: How many stories should we plan for the next iteration? The assumption of constant velocity says we could plan the next iteration to match the previous one.
  • Release planning: How many iterations should we plan for a new product release? …

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