Determining How Many Task Hours an Agile Team Can Accomplish

Note from Mike… I want to welcome Jim Magers to the LeadingAgile team.  Jim is doing a project with me in Minneapolis, and I asked him to join me here and share some of his experiences from the field.  You can learn more about Jim on his bio page.

Your team is new to agile.

So far, you’ve groomed and organized your backlog, defined your epics and features, and written some user stories.  You’re pretty happy with the quality and definition around your acceptance criteria.  The team has done some story sizing, and you’ve decomposed some number of stories into tasks and assigned ideal hour estimates to them.  So, how do you know how many hours the team can take on to have a chance at a successful sprint?

Teams that I’ve coached have found this sprint utilization worksheet to be a useful tool for estimating initial team capacity, and most have continued to use it beyond the early phases of their agile development as they continue to tweak and improve upon their initial assumptions.

Remember that an ideal hour is an hour of work where one is able to focus entirely without interruption.  My experience is that an agile team that has an average overall utilization of 65% is generally working pretty productively.  That means that in an 8 hour day, a team member who is at 65% utilization is accomplishing somewhere between 5 and 6 hours of focused effort every day.  But you may have team members who are more productive than that.  Perhaps they work remotely and don’t get pulled into as many meetings or side issues and thus are more able to focus better on sprint work.

On the flip side, there are others don’t even come close to  hitting the 65% goal.  These may be new employees who are not yet fully trained, or maybe they routinely get sucked into having to deal with with customer or production issues.

And of course people take days off for holidays and scheduled vacations.  All of this needs to be accounted for in order to be able to confidently estimate ideal hour capacity.

This worksheet assumes a two week sprint, or an 80 ideal hour starting capacity for each team member.  Take your best initial guess at what you think the utilization will be for each team member, being as realistic as possible about their ability to focus on the work of the team for the upcoming sprint.  In the worksheet examples, the utilization numbers I have assigned range from a low of 25% for Pete Hill to a high of 80% for Mary Doe.

Remove any hours off the top for planned vacation, holidays, or all day meetings where  you know that the staff won’t be able to work at all on sprint tasks.  Joe Smith, Tom Jones, and Brenda South are all taking time off during  our iteration, and that is reflected in the “non working hours anticipated” row.

That then leaves us with ideal hours available, and after the individual utilization factor is applied we can derive ideal hour capacity for each team member, summed up to calculate total potential team hours available for the sprint.

While the group has 408 ideal hours available in the sprint, based upon these factors of utilization and time away from the real work of the sprint, the team should be OK to take on around 229 ideal hours of tasks.

If your team is mature enough to have established a consistent story point velocity, this worksheet will also give you a sense of how many story points you can handle in the upcoming sprint, based upon some level of increase or decrease relative to historical capacity.   In my example, the time out of the office reduces the potential of the group by 15%.  Since the team average velocity at full force has been running at 35 story points, that 15% reduction would result in a recommendation to take on 5 fewer points than they might typically sign up for.

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