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A Real Life Example of Why Estimation is Hard

Since I use stories and story points in my daily life—I’m a nerd—I recently encountered a perfect example of why estimating by complexity is better than “effort.”

Let’s try this exercise.

Look at these two “stories” and tell me how you would estimate them.

  1. I WANT TO get a new car title from the DMV
  2. I WANT TO order new contact lenses w/ an existing prescription

How would you estimate these? I’ll give you some time. . .

. . .

. . .


I estimated the complexity of getting the title from the DMV at 8 story points and ordering the contacts lenses w/ an existing prescription at 3 story points. The extra complexity of the car title had everything to do with figuring out how to get the information for the title and interacting with the DMV.

What really happened.

The Car Title

Estimate – 8 Story Points

So I went to the website for the DMV, and found a link for getting a new title.

The portal had me login and use my two-factor authentication.

Once I logged in, the platform automatically showed me the car in my account.

I clicked on it, and the system asked for payment.

It is automatically headed to my apartment.

The whole process took two minutes of real time to complete and was utterly painless.

Contact Lenses w/ a Prescription

Estimate – 3 Story Points

I went to the website to order contact lenses.

The website asked me to find my prescription and send it.

I took a picture and sent the prescription along to the website.

The website couldn’t find my insurance, no matter how I entered it.

I went to my insurance provider website and searched.

I had to create an account, but the software’s password creation tools actually didn’t work, so I was locked out until I cracked the code on how the passwords worked.

I navigated to the website and it said I had no vision insurance.

I connected with my partner and realized that I didn’t have vision insurance added through her provider.

I then went back to the contact lens website and placed my order.

FedEx informed me that, despite the contact lens provider not asking me, the package was headed to my old address.

I tried to change the address for the order, and the app did not work.

I then had to call FedEx, but I could not get in touch with anyone on the phone, no matter how hard I tried.

I then had to call the contact lens company, who had to place a second order and ship out again.

The real time process is going to take weeks to get my contacts, and the actual time I spent on the task was about two hours.

The lesson?

Be careful when estimating based on complexity, and perhaps do a bit of research before you fully commit to a story point estimate.

Really focus on complexity. Had I done that, I would have realized that the title only required DMV communication, and the contact lens featured my eye doctor, the contact provider, and health insurance.

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