Saved By Zero
On agile projects, different teams can have different definitions of effort when estimating work. It is one reason why velocity can vary greatly on teams whose productivity is similar. It is also why using a story point value of zero can prove helpful in planning. Here are three scenarios when the practice makes sense.
I have sat in on many sprint planning sessions where user stories are estimated using story points. I’ve participated with teams that had a velocity of 20 and teams that had a velocity of 200 — even though they were more or less equal when it came to productivity and throughput. (Remember, velocity is an agile planning tool and not a measure of productivity; for more on this point, see: "Velocity Is A Plan".)
One of the differences I’ve seen in teams estimation practices is the use of the “zero” card while playing planning poker. The methodology is set up to take this estimation literally; a story point value of zero is meant to imply that not a single second of effort is required in order to achieve the exit criteria. This is almost never the case. Teams will come up with their own definitions of “no work,” which usually range from 60 seconds to 60 minutes (or less). In general, it means that the team is willing to do the work, but not willing to affect the team’s velocity for future sprints.
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