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.

In Scrum, Who are the Key Stakeholders that Should be Attending Every Sprint Review?

The Scrum Guide requires that the Product Owner ensure that “key stakeholders” attend the Scrum Sprint Review, but who are these “key stakeholders”?

According to the Scrum Glossary, a stakeholder is “a person external to the Scrum Team with a specific interest in and knowledge of a product that is required for incremental discovery. Represented by the Product Owner and actively engaged with the Scrum Team at Sprint Review.”

Typically, they fall into one of three broad categories:

  • The Users – The human people who actually use^1 the software product under development, to help them or the organization make more money or save money.

    • This could include a human compliance officer within a company, who is responsible for making sure that the software systems comply with government or financial regulations.
    • This could include the humans who support the operations or production support for the product.
    • Upstream/Downstream systems could also be considered “users” so long as we don’t forget the human end users of those systems. Don’t forget the humans!
      • Downstream reports are a good example of a downstream system” where you should definitely not forget the “human end user”, but there are other examples.
  • The External Customers (doesn’t exist for internal products — see below) – The people responsible for paying to use the software product.

    • Only applies to externally sold or externally developed products
      • By external here, we mean, outside the company doing the development.
    • In a “software development for hire” arrangement(externally developed product), the client who engages the team would be the External Customer.
    • Sometimes the External Customers and Users are the same people — take TurboTax as an example, or a software product whose human users also make the decision to purchase said product.
  • The Internal Customers – The people responsible for making the funding decisions for the software product development effort.

    • This is usually someone in Product Management(usually for external products) or someone in management in the Line of Business(usually for internal products) that is supported by the software product.
    • It could also be the CEO or CIO or similar roles at times.

There are probably exceptions to the above three broad categories. Also, don’t assume that the Product Owner can only consider “key stakeholders” as sources for requirements or good ideas. The Product Owner can work with anyone any time (possibly during Product Backlog Refinement and other activities) who can supply good ideas to capture more value for the product. Our discussion of key stakeholders here is just to understand how the “stakeholder” role in the Scrum Guide can be interpreted.

The key stakeholders are the people that receive a direct financial^2 benefit(helps them or the organization make more money or save money) from using the software.

One could also think of the management of the development organization as a stakeholder who should attend Sprint Reviews, certainly in replacement of any and all status reports and any and all other progress reporting for the Scrum Teams. If any Dev management asks for these things, the answer should almost always be something like “In Scrum, that information is communicated in Sprint Reviews, so let me get you on the invite list for that.” For Scrum “key stakeholder” purposes though, I’m not sure I’d call Dev management “key stakeholders.” or think of them as being “required” to be present(unless of course, they request status/progress reports).

In some cases, you’ll have so many “users” that it is not possible to have all of them in your Sprint Reviews. In those cases, try to get a representative sample of human users into your Sprint reviews(some companies pay for this kind of feedback from human users), and also utilize other feedback gathering mechanisms. (See “One PO Can Do it All!” in this product ownership article.)

Parting Words

I’m sure that there are exceptions to the above three broad categories, so feel free to let me know if you can think of some noteworthy ones, or maybe see if you can effectively place them under one of the three broad categories above. Talk to the Product Owner and make sure that they are ensuring that key stakeholders are are attending your Sprint Reviews, as their input is absolutely vital to the success of the product.

For a high quality class that focuses exclusively on the Product Owner role(the course is also great for key stakeholders!), see our Professional Scrum Product Owner class and contact us if you’re interested in one.

———-

Notes:

^1 Rare exception — note that sometimes a software development team acts as a “Production Support Engineer” user, but this should only apply to features actually in the product(support logging might be a good example) that help with production support. However, the modeling of a human user who is on the software development team should not become a guise for so-called “technical stories” or technical practices. That’s not a real “user”.

^2 Rare exception — If the organization developing the software is a non profit, government entity, or charity, then instead of “financial benefit” or “money”, we might say “the societal benefit” instead.

Helping Scrum Masters Improve: What would be on your Scrum Master Canvas?

I see a lot of Scrum Masters who focus on the wrong things. I was having some conversations with some Scrum trainers recently, and the conversation inspired an idea in me: The Scrum Master Canvas.

The Scrum Master Canvas

The Scrum Master Canvas, similar to the Business Model Canvas that we teach in our Product Owner courses, focuses on the things that a Scrum Master should be thinking about, in order to help her team get better at delivering more value, sooner.

So, I’ve started with some initial section ideas that might be useful to have on such a canvas:

  • “Long term Impediments”
  • “Short term Impediments”
  • Service to the Organization
    • “What are my next steps in coaching the organization to get more benefits from Scrum?”
    • “Which audiences require the different Coaching Stances?” (A table with “audience” and “coaching stance” column headers)
    • “What is on the radar of the wider Scrum Master Community of Practice?”
    • “Organizations (and sometimes me!) tend to incorrectly assign duties to the Scrum Master. What are my next steps in re-focusing those duties to where they really should be directed in Scrum?”
  • Service to the Development Team
    • “What are my next steps in helping the Dev Team become more Self Organizing so I can ‘Let the Team Decide’?”
    • “What is on my Dev Team’s Improvement Backlog right now?”
    • “What are my Dev Team’s next steps for achieving a higher degree of technical excellence?” (A table with “Next Steps” and “How can I support that?” as column headers)
    • “What things should I NOT do, so that the Scrum Team can become more Self Organizing?”
    • “What are my next steps in teaching/coaching the Dev Team to understand and enact Scrum?”
  • Service to the Product Owner
  • Service to myself, the Scrum Master
    • “In order to help my organization grow its’ Agility, what are my next steps for me learning and self improvement?”
    • “Am I working at a sustainable pace? Do I need to coach others on what that means?”
    • “What things should I NOT do, so that the Scrum Team can become more Self Organizing” (repeated for emphasis!)
    • “What else do I need to focus on, that’s not covered in a different section?”

The Scrum Master would initially create this canvas, put it on a rather large piece of paper (Information Radiator!), and likely hang it in their office in a place that is highly visible to those who walk by. In this way, in addition to focusing the Scrum Master on their role, it would also educate others in the organization on what a Scrum Master should focus on. Often times the wider organization also encourages the Scrum Master to focus on the wrong things. Maybe having this canvas would help them change their expectations of the Scrum Master, too. Anyway, you get the idea.

The Scrum Master would also probably want to schedule a calendar reminder, say every Sprint or so, to review their Canvas, edit it, and make sure they are staying on track. Then, maybe another set of calendar reminders every month or every quarter, to create a fresh copy of the canvas.

For a high quality class that focuses exclusively on the Scrum Master role, see our Professional Scrum Master class and contact us if you’re interested in one.

So, what would be on your Scrum Master Canvas?

Software and Internet Entrepreneurs are Changing the World!

There’s a new generation of entrepreneurs that cares more than just about short term money grabs, an all too often desire from wall street investors. The value of a company is in the intermediate to long term, in creativity, experimenting, empowering, and innovating — and companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon are eating the rest of the industry’s lunch. Get ready, because Apple will be your new bank, and Google will be your new cell phone and internet provider. The legacy companies are dying off like the dinosaurs. IBM and Blackberry are on my radar as some of the next to go down in flames. Microsoft, while struggling, is adapting, so I think they will make a comeback if they continue to change course.

We are lucky enough to be in the business of helping companies compete in this very daunting marketplace.  Give us a call if we can help you out.

Related Articles:

“Software is Eating the World”

http://www.wsj.com/…/SB100014240531119034809045765122509156…

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Defends Internet.org investement

http://mashable.com/…/28/mark-zuckerberg-defends-internet-…/

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.

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