Estimating software tasks is hard. There is a lot of literature on why, and how to approach it.

In this post, I want to show a simple way to break down problems the next time you estimate a task, with a scrum focus. The output of this tool is story points, not hours.

We can break down the estimation in four different dimensions:

  • Complexity: How hard is this to understand, both technically and from a domain point of view? How many components are involved?
  • Effort: will the team need a high amount of time to complete it?
  • Uncertainty: Are there unknowns? How well does the team know the code base, each other’s skills, the technology, the business process?
  • Risk: what external aspects endanger this task?

So, the next time you need to do an estimation or justify it in your team, you can say:

“My estimation is < X > story points, because I see a <high | medium | low> <Complexity | Effort | Uncertainty | Risk>, because of…”

In my experience, a task should have a maximum of one high aspect and one medium aspect. If there are more, I suggest breaking down the task.

One step further

Developing this idea, you can even assign points like:

  • High - 3
  • Medium - 2
  • Low - 1

So that a task can be estimated using the below table:

Aspect Value

This way, you can quickly document the logic behind the estimation in the ticket itself.

Credits and acknowledgments

Thanks to Konstantin Briest (LinkedIn), who showed us the estimation dimensions in one the last projects I worked on :)