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Sprint planning estimation in “user tasks”

Goal is not to start another war between the #NoEstimates and the others – I still like the idea of Mike Cohn: Commitment-driven

Option 1 – Estimation story points and hours

Step 1: Estimate in story points – using planning poker where the goal isn’t only to get estimates but to clarify user stories: this is a coaching tool, not an estimation tool.

Step 2: Break down user stories into tasks and estimate them in hours at sprint planning. Use “hours left” to calibrate “commitment” for following sprints.


Option 2: Estimation story points and user tasks less than a day

Step 1: same

Step 2: At sprint planning, break down your user stories in smaller “user tasks” (task a the user can complete): they aren’t “user stories” per se but instead of splitting them “waterfall” style, you break them in terms of “workflows” that could possibly add values.

Let’s say you have a 5 point user story about “customer log in”, you could have “user tasks” as opposed to “development tasks” such as:

  • Customer has a in valid email or password
  • Customer is offered to create an account
  • Customer can retrieve his password
  • Customer can retrieve his email address
  • Customer has a valid user name and password


Now we are happy, they can all be implemented within a day (if not we slice again the not small enough ones) – this is to keep the idea of achieving something every day: “small” means less than a day. So, looking closely, these seem like acceptance tests in fact (so I am going in the direction of Ron Jeffrey in that context).

What about classic tasks such as design, unit testing etc?

  • Now, some user stories may require some level of thinking in terms of design so why not be explicit about it. You can add a design task.
  • What about code review? This is in the DoD so technically, you can add it to the work with the user task.
  • What about unit testing? Acceptance tests? Same, since this is part of DoD, this is included in the user task.

So a user task is done follows the same DoD than a user story. So we have done is breaking down user stories into small valuable tasks.

So what is left to “estimate” is effort for the design and design should be less than a day quite likely.

So now, we could say in the first sprint, we have 50 days of work and commit to 60 “user tasks” and we commit based on “user tasks” all less than 1 day and see how we perform (calibration). Then I can use cycle-time.


  • No need to break user story down until we decide to implement them: “just-in-time”
  • We keep velocity as it works and planning poker as a coaching tool.
  • We reduce waste or kill 2 birds with one stone: we break down user stories into acceptance tests (“user tasks”).


  • Less than 1 day is still a day: let’s assume one engineer starts implementing a user task that should be a couple of hours but she/he believes there is more work involved and ends up spending the whole day: this is waste. Hold on: this is miscommunication so let’s put a process. Hold on: processes? Not very agile… What is the likelyhood of this happening? In fact, probably quite low: there is a design task to clarify further; if you waste time once, you may want to think further next time.
  • You miss the simple chat: I still think for clarity, since you have already broken down user stories into tasks, a quick estimate on hours allows double-checking we are all clear. In fact, the whole point of estimating isn’t getting getting estimates, this is to make sure we are on the same wavelength.



You can break down user stories into design of the user stories and acceptance tests and use cycle time.

You can also get quite estimates on each user tasks but with the goal in mind to just double-check we are all on the samewavelength: doesn’t cost much.

“To make an idea work, you need to build on an idea, not destroy it”


Estimating in user tasks

Epic progress report (SAFE Model) in Excel

An example of epic progress report in Excel:

Epic progress report

File: Epic Progress Report

Tips to better refine your product backlog

Here is a list of tips to improve your product backlog – reminder: still around conversation!

  • Impact mapping: link business with user stories (
    • It does answer the question: what is end goal of such user story: increasing sales? Remaining competitive? Catching up with the competition? etc
  • User story mapping: link
  • Low fidelity prototyping: using powerpoint, drawing, balsamic etc
    • Before trying to get UX details, allow you to test a new idea
    • Using powerpoint is very easy and everybody can reuse the work and collaborate:
  • Define UX: drawing on a piece of paper or on visio for instance can be very quick and can help refine some user stories: this is very effective when having a UX parallel development track
  • Having INVEST user stories: the best way to know whether this is testable is to write some example tests and using BDD format is great (Given/When/Then)
    • The great thing about examples, apart from confirming the user story, is that some examples become user stories. Examples help flash out critical details.
  • Make business rules explicit: rules are quite often “embedded” in the user stories. I have found make them explicit (When “event” Then “Action”) can be helpful especially when documenting your software product. You can add these rules in your UX design too.
    • Example: When password or username is incorrect, Then user should try to reset their password or try another time (up to 3x)
      • When user has failed 3 times, then user must reset his password

Quite a lot to get on with it – but don’t forget this is a collaborative effort whatever options you use!

Secrets of video scribing

You have ever wondered how to get these short videos on Youtube where you see a hand writing or moving pictures?

And you thought how tricky it must be!

This is not. Tools exist. They do most of the work for you: you can get your first animation in 15 minutes by simply following their tutorials. Download videoscribe from or use powtoon from

Here is my first presentation on creation of Definition of Done.

This is magic: impressive but very easy. The background music is provided, you can record the voice over by the click of a button, etc

Visual facilitation and thinking – round up on ideas on improving collaboration and understanding

Visual summary

This post is a list of videos and websites where you can find more information.

I have tried to capture different ideas: how to draw something and how to draw a problem, how to facilitate a meeting using visual facilication and games to explore business ideas and constraints:


Agile: common sense, simplicity, execution – Planning

Each project is different although the approach is the same: common sense, simplicity and capacity of a team to execute a high level plan i.e. deliver working software. This is a model that can fit some types of projects where governance is important to an organization, where project management is being used and where UX work is key to the launch of a product.

I would highlight again “simplicity”: agile is about making improvement and a good way to identify improvements is to ask yourself: “Can this cost less energy? Can this be reused? Can this be replaced by something that already exist if I change it?”

This picture shows 3 levels of planning, a gated process with review of business cases (yearly budgeting and quarterly funding) as well as quality criteria such as INVEST, DEEP for the product backlog, DoD etc


Big picture


Agile definition

Everybody is talking about “agile” but hardly nobody agrees on the meaning? What is “agile”? I have tried to see what makes you agile and thought…

Common sense is key to success: without common sense, you get mindless chaos (Steve McConnel) and smart people will not stay round for long.

Common sense drives simplicity: you cannot solves issues you do not understand; you cannot make progress if your people don’t understand what directions you are taking etc

Simplicity drives values: you clarify the key values; what is really important and people is “something” you value more than processes and documentation

Values drive principles: once your values are clear, you set out principles to follow

From your principles, you establish and improve a framework driven by common sense and simplicity and that support your values and principles.



Agile Definition


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