Sunday, November 17, 2013

Calculating your Team’s Target Velocity

In an Agile world, using empirical data helps a team understand their pace (e.g., in regards to the Agile Principle of sustainable pace).  Sustainable pace is a concept that attempts to identify the reasonable amount of work a team member can complete while still being able to sustain that pace indefinitely while remaining engaged, innovative, and enthusiastic.  A key question is, how does a team know the amount of work they can do?

One way to do this is to capture a team's actual velocity.  A team's velocity is the amount of work a team can do in an iteration or sprint that meets a quality criteria such as Done Criteria.  The work is usually captured in several requirements or user stories each with an estimate or size in story points. The total story points of user stories completed in a sprint is an example of a team's velocity.  I'm using story points in this article as the example.  A story point is a scope measure which is equivalent to a unit of effort, complexity, and risk associated with the work.  The question is, how does a team determine their pace or target velocity (depending on the word you want to use) for the next sprint. 

There are several ways to approach this and using the empirical data from the previous sprint’s actual velocity is a good start.  It is up to you to determine what works best for your team and context:
  • The simplest way to calculate the team’s target velocity (TTV) is take the previous sprint’s actual velocity and use this as the team’s target velocity.  An example if in the previous sprint, the team's actual velocity (TAV) is 120 story points, then for the next sprint, the TTV will be 120 story points.   
  • Another simple way to calculate the team’s target velocity is take the average of the previous sprint’s actual velocity.  As an example, if the previous sprints’ TAVs were 80, 90, 110, 100, and 120 story points, then divide this by 5 and the TTV will be 100 story points. 
  • A more complicated way is take the previous sprint’s actual velocity, plus credit points for completed effort of unfinished work, minus points that team members will be away on holiday, vacation, training (aka, out of office).  As an example, if the previous sprint’s TAV is 120 story points, then take credit for completed effort of unfinished work as 9 (3 points for 3 unfinished user stories), minus 10% of the previous sprint’s TAV due to the Thanksgiving holiday or 12 points, bringing the total to 117 story points (=120+9-12). 

As an aside, when your team is first starting out, you will not have any empirical data or previous actual velocity to work with.  In other words, you will have to guess your team's target velocity.  However, the good news is that because the sprint is often only 2, 3, or 4 weeks long, your team will not have to wait long to learn the team's actual velocity.  This can then be used as empirical data to help you calculate your team's next sprint's target velocity.  

In whatever way you decide to calculate the team's target velocity, ensure that the previous sprints’ actual target velocity is applied in some manner to bring as much empirical data into the calculation.  Also, attempt to apply a consistent calculation from sprint to sprint.  From there, inspect and adapt as appropriate.       


  1. IMHO, the whole velocity tracking is a wasteful activity. I rather prefer team to make continuous effort to split stories so that they can finish each story say in 2 days. So in a two week sprint the team can finish 5 stories. That way you take away the focus from estimate to understand and slice the stories which more useful.

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