A Response to Mike Cohns Comments on 64% of Software Features Rarely or Never Used

I have a saying.  “Scrum Trainers usually agree on 99% of Scrum, but they spend a lot of time debating the other 1%.”

Let me say this first.  I’m a huge fan of Mike Cohn.  I teach Scrum and Agile classes all over the country at Fortune 50 companies, and it is very rare for a class to go by that I won’t mention at least one of his awesome books on Scrum.  I also recommend him on my list of favorite Agile resources on one of our web sites.  In addition to all of this, I’ve had numerous personal interactions with Mike one on one, and he’s always been extremely nice to me, traded professional practice opinions/advice, and he even offered to let me attend one of his classes at a “trainer courtesy” discount one time.  Great guy!  In summary, I like the guy a lot personally, and I highly respect him professionally.  He’s done a ton for the software and Agile industry, and no one should forget that.

So, with that said, let’s get back to that 1% debate.  :-)

In his recent blog post, Mike reveals some little known details about the oft cited 64% of features that are rarely or never used in software systems.  His information is factual and likely true.  I’m ok with all of that.

What I don’t understand is, why bother broadcasting this?

This is the most credible study available on the subject.  If you think hard about this data for a minute, you’ll realize why it is incredibly difficult to obtain… No company wants to admit that there is a TON of bloat in their software!  But, what percentage of Microsoft Excel/PowerPoint/Word features do you use and benefit from?  What percentage of Rally features do you actually use and benefit from?  Bloat bloat bloat, negative value, negative value, negative value.   In my recent articles on the New New Product Owner, I’ve talked about the need for the New New Product Owner to be a marketplace expert, so that they can maximize the value and profits from software development for their company.

Now, the value equation is way more complicated than “rarely or never used”, but still, I think we all know that there is a TON of negative ROI functionality in any non trivially sized application, and there is a TON of software teams with far too little focus on value and profits.  Anyone who has worked on the front lines of software development knows that.  The oft cited study just helps confirm some of our suspicions.  One of our Agile Metrics consulting services at AgileSoftwareTraining.com is helping to give company leaders even more transparency into how to extract more profits and cost savings out of all of their software development efforts, whether they be internal or external systems.  Give us a call if you’re interested.

What makes that limited study useful as a teaching tool is it gets people to think about value, and think about low value, low ROI features, and realize that value delivery is important, far too important to ignore.

There are other “studies” cited in our industry that are totally bogus, software leprechauns if you will, and I’m totally against relying on those.  Things like the “Cone of Uncertainty” and the so-called “Weinberg study” on task switching have shown to be totally made up.  However, the Standish Group study is real, with real data, and it is highly credible, even if somewhat limited in its scope.

So, Mike wants us to stop citing the study, or for us to caveat it with “in the weeds” details.  Of course, that will just confuse those new to Scrum and the teaching value would be lost.  And people would focus less on software value and profits.  I don’t think that’s good.  I’m totally open to hearing about a more credible public study, but I’m unaware of one. 

With all due respect to a friendly colleague, and one of the best Scrum trainers on the planet, I think ignoring or caveating the 64% study is bad for the industry.  Let’s just put this in the 1% bucket that we as Scrum trainers will agree to disagree on.  :-)

If you’d like to disagree with my contrarian view, feel free to sound off in the comments below!

The New New Product Owner: The Product Value Maximizer in Scrum.

Preface:  In the last 4 years, the Scrum Guide has had two very significant updates, including updates to the Product Owner role that have far reaching implications. In this article and the series that follows, I attempt to describe “The New New Product Owner” role in Scrum.

In a series of upcoming articles, I will detail the different focus areas that the modern Product Owner needs to concentrate on in order to fulfill their duties on a Scrum team.
POFocusAreas_NewNewPOThe New New Product Owner understands that she will likely need to execute these activities at different times, and that she might need to delegate to others in order to effectively produce software that maximizes ROI for the software development effort.

The first and most important focus area is for the Product Owner to be the “Product Value Maximizer.”  There are lots of way to do this, but 3 key steps are involved:

  1. Order the Product Backlog by (estimated) value.
  2. Work with the Development team to get small increments of value to market quickly, for feedback.  Release to market = in production, available to end users.
  3. Rapidly assess value delivery feedback from the market, and then start over again at step #1.

These three steps will ensure that the New New Product Owner delivers “the right thing.”

Note that your market might be internal (IT software) or external (Saas, Consumer software).  Either way, it’s important to get features into production quickly, and to assess whether we have “hit the target” with respect to value… or not.  This quick release to production, every few weeks, is a key aspect of Agile software development.

If you haven’t already signed up for our blog, be sure and sign up (upper left hand corner) so you will get the future articles on this topic!

In future articles, I will detail the remaining six focus areas for the New New Product Owner:

For a high quality class that focuses exclusively on the Product Owner role(send your business stakeholders too!), see our Professional Scrum Product Owner class and contact us if you’re interested in one.  We teach all over the USA.

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 said 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 and Improved User Story Lifeycle Diagram — Free Creative Commons PDF download!

I had a designer friend update my User Story Lifecycle diagram, and she did a fantastic job!  You can download the PDF here:  http://www.scrumcrazy.com/lifecycle

New and Improved Diagram:


The Older Diagram(also still available at the above link):


Other Good User Story Links

Bradley Bug Chart Referenced in Awesome New Scrum Book

The Bradley Bug Chart was referenced in an awesome new Scrum Book that is now on the market.


I got an email from this guy named Rich one day who wanted to talk by phone and ask me some questions about the Bradley Bug Chart. A great collaboration ensued, and I incorporated some of his suggestions into my chart. A couple of weeks later, he asked me to review Chapter 1 of this book he was writing. I have some of the highest standards around, and I’m not easily impressed, but that first chapter was extraordinary! Through that one chapter, and the conversations with Rich, I realized this guy knew Scrum inside and out. I then reviewed and commented on a few more chapters. I get asked to do unpaid reviews often, but I only spend my time on things that I think are excellent for the Agile community. I’ve spent some time reviewing another book that hasn’t been published yet, and it too, is a great one for the industry in my opinion. More on that one when it gets published.

The Bradley Bug Chart Gets Called Out

A little while later, Rich asked me if he could refer to my Bradley Bug Chart in his book(see page 277), in a section on how to handle bugs in Scrum. I was ecstatic, in part just having my work get recognition, but it was also recognition from someone I highly respected myself. It was great. I also re-wrote some of the praise that I gave Rich on that Chapter 1 review as a quote for his book. Rich also ended up quoting me a few times in other parts of the book, particularly in the chapter on “Continuous Improvement.” I’m not trying to brag here, just sharing the satisfaction of seeing some of my hard work and learning as being objectively recognized in the community.

About the Book

Here is the quote I wrote for his book:

  • “Finally a book about Scrum from the Development Team’s point of view. Richard’s description of the best and worst ways to implement Scrum is priceless. The first chapter alone is one of the best descriptions of ‘Scrum done well’ that I’ve ever seen.” — Charles Bradley

I highly recommend his book for anyone working with Scrum and Microsoft Visual Studio/.Net technologies.

Here is the book:


Small Caveat: Rich is and was a trainer with Scrum.org, and since our initial collaboration, Rich inspired me to become a trainer for Scrum.org as well. So, while none of this was true at the time of the above events, I wanted to mention that we are now both trainers for Scrum.org. I have no financial interests in his book, whatsoever, and my journey to become a Scrum.org trainer came after my review of his book. Thanks Rich!

New User Stories Article on Agile Atlas

I recently co-authored a new article on User Stories with fellow Scrum Trainer Mark Levison. I think it’s one of the better introductory articles to User Stories on the net, and having the credibility of the Agile Atlas is great. Ron Jeffries, the co-inventor of User Stories, was one of the main reviewers of the article, so that was a little intimidating. But, he gave it high praise and only suggested a couple of minor edits. The article is now my “go-to” article on an introduction to User Stories.

Here is the article: http://agileatlas.org/gasps/article/user-stories

Other Good User Story Links:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 395 other followers

%d bloggers like this: