Sprint Velocity: Common Ways It Can Be Misused

A lot of scrum teams can misuse velocity. Developers, product owners, managers, and scrum masters do not understand what this metric is for or fail to measure it in a meaningful way.

Velocity measures the story points a team completes in an iteration. As teams decide the number of user stories they commit to complete, considering previous sprint velocity can be a good guiding factor. Although there are other factors that teams take into account when they commit to a new sprint, velocity provides data on what gets done instead of relying on forecasts or gut instincts. But despite the simplicity of velocity as a metric, things could still go wrong. These include the following:

Teams Fail to Use Velocity to Predict

Often, teams measure their velocity at every sprint review and do not use the data they gathered when they pull in work for a new sprint. A lot of times, they bring in round figures such as 20 or 30 points each sprint. Or they might not consider the number of story points carried over from the previous sprint.

Teams must keep in mind that velocity is only useful when being used. So, when they set a meeting to plan their sprints, they should start by determining the number of story points they should bring in. Then, after they have chosen new work, members must be reminded of what their velocity is. The team must discuss whether or not their sprint commitment has been realistic.

Teams Can Use Velocity as a Performance Metric

Velocity is supposed to be a prediction metric, not a performance metric. As a team wants to increase their velocity, they overestimate their user stories’ size, resulting in inaccurate predictions. As the size of user stories is significantly inflated, only a few stories are drawn to a new sprint. In the long term, a team can seem to complete more story points, increasing their velocity. However, in reality, they are not increasing the amount of work they can complete.

Developers must remind themselves that the only use of velocity is to predict future work, not to measure productivity. Also, they must understand what counts as completed work and what’s not, without getting their emotions involved. Velocity refers to the number of story points completed in the recent sprint. It can tell a team roughly the number of story points they might complete in the next sprint.