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Top 5 User Story Estimation Techniques
Published:Mar 15, 2022

Top 5 User Story Estimation Techniques

While being a software engineer isn’t a stroll in the park, the most complex aspect of the job may surprise you.

Often, estimating the time required to complete a work item or project is one of the most stressful tasks. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Read on to learn our favorite user story estimation techniques to help you create accurate estimates for successful agile project management.

What Is Estimation in Software Development and Why Should You Care?

Let’s get onto the same page: Estimation is the process of predicting the most realistic amount of effort, often expressed in terms of person-hours, required to deliver a work item.

The challenge is that development teams often need to complete the process based on incomplete, uncertain, or noisy input.

The good news is that story point estimation can help you measure story size and reap the benefits of agile estimation while minimizing the risks posed by unknown factors.

agile estimation benefits

Story point estimation is a key component of agile project management. It helps improve team members’ understanding of the project requirements.

For example, if two groups of engineers have very different estimates on the same functionality, it’s a red flag that either the requirements aren’t clear or team members interpret the scope differently.

Accurate estimation helps agile teams plan for workload and understand dependencies. Teams can use it as a tool to measure progress, keep everyone accountable, introduce discipline into the development process, and establish a release schedule.

By comparing the estimated effort with the actual amount of time spent, engineers can also gain better insights about their processes to inform retrospectives and make improvements.

Top 5 User Story Estimation Techniques

You’d most likely start with a product roadmap and a big chunk of work — a scrum epic to be spread across multiple sprints and maybe teams. An epic is a high-level description of the requirements, which you can divide into smaller user stories over several iterations.

In agile development, a user story is the smallest unit of work. It’s a general, often informal, description of a software functionality through the lens of the end-user. It helps software teams articulate how a feature delivers value to the customer.

Top 5 User Story Estimation Techniques

User stories are the building blocks. By breaking down a large project into smaller pieces, you can gain granular insights into each component to make accurate estimations and plan your sprints productively.

The Fibonacci sequence (i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100…) is often used in story point estimation to represent effort. The exponential nature allows teams to be more realistic when estimating large and complex tasks, which have more room for errors.

Get ready to roll up your sleeves. Most estimation processes work best the old-school way — with pen and paper, sticky notes, and a wall space or table.

There are many agile estimation techniques. Here are some of our favorite ones:

best User Story Estimation Techniques

1. Planning Poker

This method uses the Fibonacci sequence where user story point values are presented as 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100 on playing cards, associated with different levels of complexity.

The product owner or scrum master describes the user story, and each team member will secretly select a card number for the estimate. Then, everyone reveals their cards. The number that gets the most votes will be the final estimation for the task.

Planning poker helps development teams establish a mutual understanding of the project and is particularly useful for estimating a small number of work items.

2. T-shirt Size Estimation

This agile estimation technique involves assigning each user story a T-shirt size (e.g., S, M, L.) The process helps team members achieve a big-picture understanding of the requirements.

The technique produces a quick and rough estimate for the time and work required and is particularly useful for managing a large backlog. It’s also useful for early-stage estimation to get a bird’s-eye view quickly.

T-shirt Size Estimation

3. Dot Voting

Using this estimation methodology, agile teams organize work items from the highest to the lowest priority to decide where to focus their time and efforts.

Put the description of each agile story on a sticky note. Then give each team member 4 to 5 dots (e.g., stickers or markers) to place on the stories they consider the highest priority.

Dot voting is favored by well-established scrum teams for prioritizing large backlogs.

4. Bucket System

Start the estimation process by setting up a row of cards (i.e., buckets) with values in the Fibonacci sequence (i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 20, 30, 50, 100, 200). Then, team members will discuss a work item and place the user story in an appropriate bucket.

This agile estimation technique is suitable for estimating a large number of items or long-term projects. Development teams can make quick estimations, while the method is easy for those new to agile.

Bucket System

5. Affinity Mapping System

This method uses silent relative sizing. Start by placing two cards on opposite ends of a wall and giving team members a list of user stories (e.g., on sticky notes.)

The team arranges the items on the wall based on estimated effort. The scrum master then finalizes the product backlog items based on their positions.

This approach helps make a long-term plan for a project with large backlogs. It’s more suitable for early-stage estimations and helps the team gain a mutual understanding of the requirements.

The Foundation of Accurate User Story Estimations

No matter which methodology you use to estimate story points for your development projects, there’s one foundational element you can’t overlook — data.

You can refine your estimations by leveraging insights from historical data (using a GitHub project management system) and comparing features and requirements of similar past projects to reduce unknowns.

But that’s not all…

Since most business decisions are made based on a project timeline, you also need a reliable way to translate story points into the amount of time needed to complete a task.

That’s why we have developed a metric called “pace” to help teams correlate story points with tracked time. After analyzing past data, you can calculate your pace to estimate how much time you need for a new work item.


Your estimate is only as good as the quality of the input. As such, you must have a way to track your time accurately.

7pace Timetracker allows software development teams to track time where they work (i.e., on Github or Azure DevOps) without logging into a separate time recording tool to enter the information after the fact.

Our Timetracker associates your time with each work item. You can get accurate and granular data to use during retrospectives and inform future planning. You can also pull real-time reports during a sprint to check your pace, adjust your estimate, and course-correct if needed.

Try 7pace to see how it can help you better scope, plan, and estimate user stories.

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