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Agile Development

Story Points vs Hours: What’s the Difference?





Agile Development


Story Points vs Hours: What’s the Difference?

Published: 2023/07/31

Updated 26/03/2024

6 min read

What is a story point? 

Story points are a metric used in Agile and Scrum methodologies to estimate the effort required for completing tasks or user stories. They represent a combination of the work’s complexity, the effort involved, and potential risks, rather than specific time. This method enables teams to make more objective estimates and manage their workload more efficiently, leading to improved planning and project management.

By utilizing story points, teams can better grasp the relative effort needed to tackle various pieces of work within a project. Teams give points based on various factors, including prior experience and combined skill set. This relative estimation method enables teams to overcome emotional attachments to specified timeframes and empowers them to make well-informed decisions regarding a task’s difficulty and feasibility. This article explores the advantages of story points vs hours and how they contribute to enhanced project management and the right allocation of a dedicated software development team.  

How are story points calculated?

The calculation of story points is a collaborative effort that involves an entire team, who collectively discuss and evaluate the tasks in the product backlog. Once a team reaches a consensus on the appropriate story point value for each task through open discussions and sharing insights, they learn how to best leverage their expertise and knowledge, resulting in a more accurate and reliable estimation. 

Using story points makes it possible to evaluate tasks in relation to each other, rather than just based on time alone. The team establishes a reference scale, often called the “Fibonacci sequence” (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on), to assign story points to different tasks. This relative scale helps compare tasks and provides transparency on the required effort. Calculating story points emphasizes collaboration, transparency and open communication among team members, while fostering a collective view of the work ahead. 

How to use story points to estimate a project?

Using story points for project estimation requires a team-oriented approach and an appreciation for relative analysis. To estimate a project using story points, a team collectively assesses each task or backlog item – taking into account its workload and uncertainty. Over time, as a team gains experience and completes more tasks, they build a valuable team productivity metric called “velocity,” which represents the average number of story points a team can meet within a given sprint or time frame. The expected number of story points can vary based on a team’s velocity and complexity of tasks, making it a valuable metric for project estimation. 

Velocity is a key performance indicator and reflects a team’s productivity and capacity to complete work over time. As a team progresses, they gain insights into their achievable productivity and how much work they can do within a certain period. This knowledge helps a team create more accurate and reliable plans for future sprints and projects. While estimating using story points offers numerous advantages, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the value of story points can vary between teams. Each team’s understanding of the factors, such as work and risk, might differ slightly, leading to variations in the assigned story point values. Therefore, it’s crital to consider these differences when comparing estimates between teams. 

Benefits of using story points over hours

For a long time, people have relied on time-based methods, such as estimating in hours or days, to determine how much effort a project will require. However, story points offer several compelling benefits over time-based estimates and are revolutionizing how teams plan and execute their projects.  

Using story points provides several benefits over traditional time-based estimates: 

  • Non-project-related tasks like emails and meetings should be accounted for in story points, preventing potential inaccuracies in estimates. 
  • Story points eliminate emotional attachments to specified timelines and lead to more objective estimations. 
  • Each team can estimate work on their scale, making manipulating velocity for political purposes impossible. 
  • Assigning story points becomes quicker and requires less debate once a team agrees on their relative effort. 
  • Story points reward team members and encourage a focus on delivering value instead of merely spending time.
  • Story points are a relative measure that avoids the limitations and pitfalls of equating points to specific hours. 
  • They allow teams to focus on the effort required to complete the work, which promote more accurate estimations.  
  • Story points provide flexibility and adaptability – enabling teams to adjust estimates based on changing circumstances. 
  • Teams can create reliable plans based on relative effort, fostering improved project management and resource allocation. 

By leveraging story points, teams can achieve more accurate and objective estimations, break free from the rigidity of fixed timelines, and focus on delivering value efficiently. Using story points over hours empowers teams with accurate estimations, objective decision-making, and a focus on delivering value, making it an essential tool in Scrum methodologies, Agile project management, and resource allocation. 

What’s the relationship between story points and hours in Agile estimation?

In Agile project management, the debate over story points vs. hours often sparks team curiosity and discussion. It is often asked: How do story points intertwine with hours in estimating project tasks? Essentially, they map the story points to hours to determine the required time for each task. Teams rely on the story points to hours conversion for accurate project planning. For a sprint, they calculate the story points to hours ratio to set achievable goals. As mentioned above, they assign story points to different user stories using the Fibonacci sequence. During planning, they practice story-pointing Fibonacci to rate the task’s complexity.  

How many hours are 3 story points? The number of hours corresponding to three story points can vary from one team to another. There is no fixed conversion rate between story points and hours, as story points are a relative measure of complexity and effort, while hours are a specific unit of time. A team determines how many story points to assign to each task based on their past work and estimated tasks’ characteristics.  

How many hours is 1 story point? Similar to the previous question, the number of hours for one story point is not a universally fixed value. It can differ significantly between teams. Story points represent the relative effort required to complete a task, while hours are a specific time measurement. A team should consider their velocity and experience with similar tasks to determine the appropriate hours mapping to story points. 

Should you use story points or hours? A team’s preferences and the Agile framework determine whether to use story points or hours for estimation. Story points are often favored in Scrum and other Agile methodologies because they provide a more abstract, relative measurement without being tied to fixed time units. Story points enable teams to prioritize tasks more effectively and facilitate better planning. 

How many hours is 1 story point in Jira? Teams utilizing Agile project management software, such as Jira, measure relative effort through story points, which are not directly tied to specific hours. Jira does not provide a standard conversion rate of story points to hours because it promotes using story points as a relative estimation unit. However, some teams may establish their conversion rate based on their velocity and historical data. 

What problems can occur when using story points and hours in Agile estimation? 

Several problems can occur when utilizing story points and hours in Agile estimation. Let’s focus on the most crucial ones:  

  • There may be inconsistencies in the team’s understanding and application of both metrics, resulting in confusion and miscommunication. 
  • Focusing too much on the time aspect (hours) rather than the relative complexity or effort (story points) can undermine the purpose of using story points for estimation. 
  • Teams may mistakenly equate story points with hours while missing the true purpose of story point abstraction. 
  • Mixing different metrics can hinder accurate progress tracking and comparisons across tasks or sprints. 
  • Using both metrics might lead to unnecessary overhead in managing and maintaining two separate estimation systems. 


In summary, understanding the debate of story points vs hours is extremely valuable for correct project estimation in Scrum and Agile. Story points empower teams to make informed decisions and prioritize tasks effectively. Teams can avoid mistakes in Agile software development and encourage collaboration, transparency, and shared agreement among their members, which ultimately lead to more accurate and realistic planning.  

While story points offer numerous benefits, they should be used with caution, since misuse can impact judgment, detailed timelines and resource allocation. Instead, teams should leverage story points to get a clear view of the size of the work and facilitate successful project execution. An exemplary software team can embrace story points for more accurate project estimation. By implementing story points as a relative estimation method, teams can transcend the limitations of time-based estimates and achieve enhanced productivity and planning in their Agile projects. 

About the authorSoftware Mind

Software Mind provides companies with autonomous development teams who manage software life cycles from ideation to release and beyond. For over 20 years we’ve been enriching organizations with the talent they need to boost scalability, drive dynamic growth and bring disruptive ideas to life. Our top-notch engineering teams combine ownership with leading technologies, including cloud, AI, data science and embedded software to accelerate digital transformations and boost software delivery. A culture that embraces openness, craves more and acts with respect enables our bold and passionate people to create evolutive solutions that support scale-ups, unicorns and enterprise-level companies around the world. 

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