User Stories – Focusing on Conversations instead of Writing – Gojko Adzic’s New User Story Book

In my recent article on telling user stories instead of writing user stories, I mentioned that many Scrum Teams focus way too much on documentation and way too little on good collaborations.

More support for this concept comes from the first chapter in Gojko Adzic’s new User Story book, Fifty Quick Ideas to Improve your User Stories.

User stories imply a completely different model: requirements by collaboration. Hand-overs are replaced by frequent involvement and discussions…. If requirements are just written down and handed over, this discussion does not happen. Even when such documents are called stories, by the time a team receives them, all the important decisions have already been made…. Try telling stories instead of writing down details. Use physical story cards, electronic ticketing systems and backlog management tools just as reminders for conversations…Engage business stakeholders and delivery team members in a discussion, look at a story from different perspectives and explore options. That’s the way to unlock the real benefits of working with user stories.

Gojko has been nice enough to publish the “Tell stories, don’t write them” chapter available completely free here!  It is also important to note, that this chapter is tip #1 in his book, as it really sets the stage for the best use of the User Story practice.

The User Story practice was always intended as a very close, verbal collaboration between the Dev Team and the PO/Customer. In modern times, you can achieve this very easily with good Product Backlog Refinement practices.

Anyway, it’s totally worth another five minutes of your time to read Gojko’s free chapter, and be sure to share it with your teams and organizations too!

To maximize your Scrum and User Stories practice, bring us into your company to deliver coaching or our User Stories Class.

Focus on Telling User Stories, NOT Writing User Stories

Ebin Poovathany has written a wonderful article on how we should focus more on the verbal conversation aspects of User Stories rather than focusing too much attention on “writing” User Stories. I myself have written an article about this as well (See Trap #’s 1, 8, 10,and 13). It’s great to see that this topic is starting to get more attention in the industry.

As Ebin points out, using so called “User Story Templates” (“As a user, I want..”, “In order to…I want…”, etc) causes people to backslide into older waterfall habits, and creating the same old kinds of documents that we used to create in waterfall, along with the same old problems. He sad this is sad, and as a User Story proponent, I agree. It’s a horrible misunderstanding, but it’s rampant in our industry. The User Story practice was always intended as a very close, verbal collaboration between the Dev Team and the PO/Customer. In modern times, you can achieve this very easily with good Product Backlog Refinement practices.

Anyway, it’s totally worth your five minutes to read Ebin’s article, and be sure to share it with your teams and organizations too!

To learn how to avoid User Story Traps and maximize your User Stories practice, see more info about our User Stories Class.

New advanced Scrum certifications!!

Happy New Year!!

I’ll post more updates on this exciting development as the new assessments and credentials go into service!

http://blog.scrum.org/scrum-org-professional-series-updates-2015/

We will be providing PSM II courses later this year for those who want to take their Scrum skills — literally — to the next level.

Should I use hours to estimate my tasks in Scrum?

My new recommended “starter” “complementary practice” for new Scrum teams is to simply create tasks and use the “number of tasks remaining” for a burndown.  (I also usually recommend that they try to make it such that the vast majority of their tasks are roughly 1 day or less) I encourage them more to focus on PRI (potentially releasable increments), Sprint Goals, and achieving a moderately consistent level of skill at meeting their Sprint forecasts (used to be called “Sprint commitment,” it’s been re-named in the Scrum Guide).  I also caution heavily against trying to achieve perfect forecast accuracy as that’s a fool’s errand in complex domains.

Using hours for tasks can lead down some really bad roads, most notably:  Former PM’s turned SM’s and other organizational members who try to apply PMI tactics (100% utilization, tracking actuals, etc) tactics to complex software development.  By preferring “sticking to the plan” over “responding to change”, they are completely violating Agile and Scrum.

This same bad road can also lead companies into think that “schedule/scope/cost” is an optimum model for software development.  As far as I’m concerned, schedule/scope/cost is a dead, failed model for software.

Now, using hours for tasks doesn’t have to lead down those bad roads — but in my experiences, they usually do.  Let’s not forget, Scrum used to require hours for task estimation, many years ago, but the Scrum experiences of the wider community over 20 years has spoken on the topic — hours is not always optimum.  I would go farther than that and say, at the Sprint task level, it’s usually NOT optimum.

Given the above, I’ll leave it as an exercise to others to describe where using task hours might not lead down those bad roads.

_____
Charles Bradley
Professional Scrum Trainer
Scrum Coach-in-Chief
http://ScrumCrazy.com

New Courses from ScrumCrazy.com:

  • Scrum For Executives
  • Agile Requirements: Product Owner and Team Collaboration Techniques
  • Scrum Product Owner: Techniques for Success
  • Evidence Based Management for Software Organizations(TM)
    • Class for Software Development Managers and Executives

If you’re interested in any of our classes, training, or coaching services, feel free to contact us.

Breaking News!! Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum Inc introduces “Scrum At Scale” — see it at Agile 2014 session

I was lucky enough to get a preview of the “Scrum At Scale” approach from Scrum Inc a few days ago. In short, it’s a model for conversations around how to think about scaling Scrum in the enterprise. The model is modular, and it is very clear that this approach is more lightweight and flexible than other Agile scaling approaches that get a lot of attention. Alex Brown of Scrum Inc, the Product Owner for the model, as well as Jeff Sutherland, are very adamant that this this not some cookie cutter recipe or methodology to scale Scrum. It’s different than other approaches, in that it’s a model for conversations around inspecting and adapting toward success with Scrum at Scale.

I’m told that the slides for the presentation at the link above will be posted there within the next couple of days, and possibly sooner. The slides will add a lot of detail that the main graphic doesn’t give. I will also add that there is some nuance and detail not included in the slides either. As such, I recommend try to attend one of their live or recorded video presentations to get some richer nuance…. or….

They are also presenting on this topic at Agile 2014 next week. If you’re going to be at Agile 2014, I highly recommend you put their session on your “must see” list.

The model gives a “big picture” view of Scrum in the enterprise, but it also dovetails nicely with the many years of work that Jeff Sutherland and others have put into their Scrum Patterns efforts. As you may know, I’m also a fan of this Scrum patterns concept, and you can see an example of that work on my website — Daily Scrum Patterns.

It’s worth mentioning that I have no business relationship whatsoever with Scrum Inc, so I’m not in any way incentivized to advocate for their approach.  I’m only endorsing it because I believe in the approach and in it’s future.

I suspect that this work will be a game changer in the Scrum scaling space, which doesn’t surprise me, really. It *is,* after all, coming from a company run by the co-creator of Scrum! Nice work Alex Brown, Jeff Sutherland, and Scrum Inc!

Is SAFe(tm) Bad? Is it unsafe? Is it Agile? Are there alternatives?

For much better alternatives to SAFe(tm), see this page.

All my personal/professional opinion.

I’m not a big fan of SAFe(tm). I haven’t yet had time to sit down and detail all of the problems I have with it, but I’ll hit a couple.

1. It’s not Agile at all. It’s a sales strategy.

My biggest problem with it is that it condones old, out of date, and dysfunctional practices that don’t enhance Agility. It is essentially a hybrid approach of Waterfall and Agile, along with a lot of baggage from RUP. This probably shouldn’t surprise anyone since the creator, Dean Leffingwell, was a big salesman/evangelist for RUP. The biggest baggage from RUP is the complexity of a zillion different roles and the fact that SAFe is a “slice and dice” methodology. It’s not a framework. I think the “slice and dice” thing is really just a slick sales strategy. It allows those selling SAFe to immediately disown any practice of SAFe that a potential client complains isn’t Agile or won’t work. It also means that any tiny subset of SAFe is still considered to be SAFe. As such, I just consider this a sales strategy to sell more billable hours. This strategy was also used in RUP, and yet… over the years… which has prospered more? RUP or Scrum? Scrum is a framework, so there is no slice and dicing of the framework itself.

2. It misleads people into thinking that it uses Scrum at the team level.

It claims to use Scrum at the team level, but then completely sells out Scrum in so many ways. It sells out the Product Owner role by giving control to all manner of people over the Product Backlog contents, something Scrum expressly forbids. It sells out the Scrum Master role by suggesting it’s a 25% time commitment. Then, it completely sells out the Development Team by creating Ivory Tower architects.

3. To date, no Agile Manifesto author has endorsed it. That should tell you something right there.

This one is self explanatory. :-)

The reasons I don’t like it are covered in way more detail in these reviews of SAFe by other people who are sharp enough to tell the differences between SAFe and other approaches, as well as the history behind similar practices and approaches

For much better alternatives to SAFe(tm), see this page.

Great Article from Scrum Co-Creator Ken Schwaber on “Agile Value”

Ken Schwaber’s written a great article on Agile Value .  He talks about how value can be defined in Agile, and the article also covers the difference between traditional project management metrics and Agile project measurements.

On a related note, see Common Project Management Metrics Doom IT Departments to Failure

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