Better User Stories

Aaron Corcoran's Testimonial

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During an iteration planning meeting, a team won’t be able to think of all tasks they’ll need to perform during the coming iteration. Some tasks just can’t be anticipated in advance. But others can be and teams often fall into a habit of overlooking certain types of work.

For example, one team might forget to consider changes to reports. Another team might forget that changes to one part of the system often require changes to another part. Or a team might tend to forget that when they change this last part of the system, the VP of that area likes to see the proposed new screens early in the iteration.

Whatever they may be, most teams have some types of systematic omissions--that is, types of work they fail identify on a regular basis.

If you think your team is suffering from this, here’s a simple thing you can do.

For three or so iterations, make note of all tasks identified during the iteration. If you’re using a software tool, this should be easy. If you’re using cards on a wall, clandestinely put a little dot on each card immediately after the planning meeting so you can later identify the task cards written during that meeting.

In the next planning meeting, bring a list of all the tasks that were added during the previous iterations. Tell the team what you’ve done and that these are tasks that no one identified during the planning meeting yet needed to be done during the iterations.

Ask them to look for patterns. Are there certain types of tasks the team missed?

If so, create a list and hang it on the wall or add it to the project home page. I like to structure it in the form of questions to be asked during iteration planning meetings. Questions will be things like:

  • Have we considered ___?
  • Will this product backlog item impact ____?

I’m not recommending you do this to identify 100% of all tasks during the iteration planning meeting. That’s too time consuming (and impossible).

But if you find your team is not doing a good job of thinking about the sprint ahead, this can be a helpful technique.


P.S. Did you just happen to stumble across this page? This was connected to a weekly tip related to agile and Scrum that Mike Cohn delivers to your inbox. If you haven't yet signed up, it's fast and simple, and you can do it here.

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If you’re a Scrum Master (or any member of a Scrum team) who is trying to change some behavior with your team, consider asking one of the team members to help you out by subtly signaling that you’re doing the thing you don’t want to do. Something as simple as a nose touch, like this signal from the movie "The Sting" will suffice.

P.S. Did you just happen to stumble across this page? This was connected to a weekly tip related to agile and Scrum that Mike Cohn delivers to your inbox. If you haven't yet signed up, it's fast and simple, and you can do it here.

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There is a story in Scrum about a chicken and a pig.

One day the chicken decides that the two should start a restaurant.

The pig is intrigued by the idea and says, “That sounds great. I’m an entrepreneurial type of hog. I’m sick of working for the farmer. But what are we going to call the restaurant?”

The chicken thinks. Then she scratches and pecks at the dirt and suggests, “Ham and Eggs!”

To which the pig replies, “No thanks, I’d be committed. You’d only be involved.”

The Difference Between Commitment and Involvement

This story is told in Scrum circles to point out the difference between commitment and involvement.

The original idea was that the development team members and Scrum Master were committed, but the product owner was merely involved. It was used to claim that the product owner should not participate (or even attend) the daily scrum.

I’ve never been fond of that way of thinking. It sets up an unnecessary divide between team and product owner. Further, who can be more committed to the success of a project than the product owner, who is sometimes called the “single wringable neck” in Scrum literature?

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