Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Trekking and Story Point Estimation Technique

Trekking is an adventure sport. Hiking a long-distance trail from end-to-end is also referred to as trekking. Hillwalking is a British term for hiking in hills or mountains. It is not mountaineering though.  There are popular trekking routes all over the world.

Let me take you to Nepal. More than 80% of the land in Nepal is covered with mountains. There are several trekking routes or areas. One of them is in Manang region and it is located along the east side of the Annapurna range. It offers breathtaking trekking experience. Another one is Langtang-Helambu-Gosaikunda trek. If you want fewer crowds and meet friendly people, this is what you should choose.

Now the questions are, ‘How much does it cost? How much time does it take?’ Tour operators have their rate cards and you may be able to negotiate in some cases to get a reasonable discount. But, how much time do you need? May be a week or two or little more than that?

When you enquire tour operators, this is what you hear - “it will take you from 1 week to 10 days to complete’. Of course, it depends on the pace of your team or group. If you are going to move in slow pace, and take frequent stops for resting, you will need 8 to 10 days. If you are an experienced trekking group, you will need one week. That is because your productivity is high.

Now you ask, ‘How do you compare Manang trek with Langtang-Helambu-Gosaikunda trek? Are they the same or different? Are they equally complex or difficult?’

Frequent trekkers share their experience to answer this question. They compare, relate and group trekking routes. Whenever they come across a new terrain or route they estimate the complexity or difficulty - they relate it to their past experience and come up with estimates based on what information they have. They start with that estimate, do daily break-down of how much to travel, where to stop, etc. and complete the trek. They learn, revise their estimates if required and they look forward to the next trekking experience.

Their approach is empirical. They know that scientific approaches are going to cost way above their budget. To them, applying their experience helps. With more and more trekking and working as a group, they become better and better. When it happens, they accomplish what they want to accomplish and have enough fun too!

Collective experience and group learning helps them. They discuss, ask questions, and seek clarity. They challenge estimates. They weigh the pros and cons and finally concede. It is a collective decision. They have protocols or policies.

This is very analogous to what we do in software estimation in the name of complexity based estimates. Story point estimation Technique is one of them. Story points are not integers. They are sequence of numbers form Fibonacci sequence. Story point estimation is a team exercise.

When you and your team members do Story Point estimation, you begin with understanding user stories. One of you read out the first story. Everyone including you identifies a story point by picking a card from a deck (everyone has a deck of planning poker cards). All team members reveal their estimates when they are asked to do so. Not one by one but at the same time. They settle the differences by talking about the complexities involved in implementing that user story. They rationalize and arrive at the final number.

It is a personal experience to the team. The more and more they do it they become better and better.

When we draw parallels between trekking and story-pointing it becomes easy to introduce the fundamentals of this estimation technique. What do you think?