Archive for user-stories tag

What’s the Right Amount of Backlog Refinement?

Many teams struggle with getting the right level of detail in their backlog.  If the backlog is too vaguely defined, then the team picks up stories that aren’t immediately actionable which can slow them down.  On the other hand, if the backlog is too well defined then it becomes rigid and fails to evolve as the product takes shape.  It can even stifle the creativity of the team as they try to find the best option for achieving each outcome.

So, how do you strike the right balance when creating your own backlog?  In his excellent book Scrum Product Ownership, Bob Galen introduced the 20/30/50 Rule for product backlog refinement to address this very problem.

Here’s how it works…

The First 20 Percent

20% of the stories on the backlog should be well refined and ready to be picked up at any time.  These are the stories that are immediately actionable that your team can begin work on with little hesitation.  You and your team will need to agree on exactly what makes a story actionable for them, but here are a few options to consider as a starting point….

  1. Each story has a stated objective and corresponding business justification.  While this is often expressed in the popular format “As a…., I want…., So that…” format, the specific format isn’t important as long as the team knows what they’re trying to accomplish and why they’re trying to do so.
  2. Each story has defined acceptance criteria to give the team a clear and unambiguous picture of what the end state of the story should look like.
  3. Each story meets the agreed to Definition of Ready established by your team.  If your team has yet to establish their own, then the INVEST criteria is a good place to start to consider which qualities of stories are important to your team team which may not be as important.

The Next 30 Percent

RefinementThe next 30% of the stories on the backlog aren’t ready to be picked up by your team, but are in a good enough state that you as the Product Owner can have a discussion about these stories with your team and stakeholders to decide when these stories should be worked on…if ever.  

Expect these stories to contain no more than an objective and business justification and to be sized larger than the first 20%.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for many of these stories to simply exist as unrefined epics.  The goal for stories in this bucket are to pin a specific idea to the backlog so that it’s not lost as well as to facilitate a discussion around when it would make sense for the team to invest in tackling that story.  If the story is not specific then this discussion will meander and won’t be productive, but, if the story has already been too well defined then the creativity that would otherwise emerge from that discussion will be stifled.

The Final 50 Percent

The final 50% of stories are the least refined of them all.  These stories tend to be largest stories on the backlog and exist only as vague ideas of things the team would like to consider for the future.  If the previous set of stories tend to be at the Epic level, then these items are the Themes of your backlog.  

These stories are not ready for a team to work on and really aren’t even ready for a team to discuss.  Instead, these stories exist as placeholders for the Product Owner to periodically evaluate whether they still make sense for the direction of the product and, if they do, to begin to introduce them to the discussion.

Finding What Works

Structuring your backlog according to these rules of thumb will help you strike the balance between items that your team can be productive with immediately and items that still deserve more refinement.

Depending on your team and your product, you may find that you need to tweak the percentages to optimize the backlog for what works best in your organization.  You may also find that you need to experiment with whether these numbers correspond to the total remaining story points in your product backlog or to simply the total number of remaining product backlog items.  As with most opportunities in agile, experimentation will be the key to finding what works the best for your team.

However you decide to implement it, the 20/30/50 rule gives you a nice guideline of how much of your backlog should be ready at any time while keeping the risk of over refinement at bay.

Want to learn even more ways to slice your user stories so your team can start working with them immediately? Check out my course, Creating Effective User Stories, for easy techniques that will have you writing better user stories today.

Don’t have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

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Evil

Evil User Stories for Modeling Evil Users

If you’re like most Product Owners, you probably have a backlog full of user stories modeling just what you’d like to see your best users do with your product.

But what about your “not so great” users. Not just those who are casual users of your product, or approach it with the lackluster enthusiasm. No, I’m talking about those malevolent users who have set out to do you harm. You have those users, too…you just may not be thinking about them.

These are the users who have only dubious intent towards your company, your product, or even your other users. We call these users our “Evil Users”, and whether you want to think of them or not…they’re your users, too. And they deserve they’re own user stories.

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The Choosers versus Users Dilemma

The Choosers versus Users Dilemma

We often talk about our “customer”, they’re at the center of everything we do. But we rarely talk about who our “customer” may actually be. Often, we just assume that our customer is the user of our product…but what if they’re not? It may seem strange to imagine a case where our customer and our user are not the same person, but it happens more often than you may think. But if our customers are not the users of our product then we need to think about who is…and how can we design a product that appeals to them, too.

For example, imagine that we create educational apps for kids. We write these apps to appeal to kids, and we want them to be fun.

Kids are our Users.

So, to appeal to our users we craft colorful environments filled with enticing audio cues and addictive rewards systems. And, as a result, kids love our apps.

But, kids aren’t paying for our apps…their parents are. So, we also need to appeal to the parents. In this scenario, the parents are our Choosers. This means that the app needs to provide more value beyond simply being “fun”. Perhaps it needs to provide educational value, or it simply needs to occupy the kids on a long car ride. Whatever the reason, it ultimately needs to serve the needs of the parents who will actually be the ones to spring for it.

But we can’t forget the kids, if they don’t enjoy the app then they’ll stop playing with it. And if they stop playing with it then they won’t be occupied on long car rides and their parents won’t buy apps from us again.

See what we did there? We’ve created a cycle. Whether it turns out to be virtuous or vicious is up to us.

Enough of This Consumer NonsenseThe Choosers versus Users Dilemma

I know what you’re thinking. Sure, that example is all well and good for consumer apps…but I build business products. I build products for the enterprise…I don’t have to worry about this nonsense. But what if I told you that your Choosers versus Users dilemma is even more pronounced.

Imagine that you’re building a CRM app for the real estate industry. You’ll want the the product to appeal to real estate agents so you’ll want it to be easy to use, lightweight, and provide useful information such as contact info and recent conversations that agents can draw on when interacting with prospective buyers and sellers.
In fact, we could even customize it to their industry to allow agents to quickly access additional information such as each prospect’s desired home type and school district.

It should be everything they could ever want. After all, they are our Users.

However, there’s just one problem. The agents aren’t paying for the product, the brokers who own the brokerages they work for are. And as much as the broker would probably like to make their agents happy, they’re not likely to spring for the cost of a custom CRM system just to put a smile on their faces. So we also need to appeal to them….perhaps even more so. They are our Choosers.

To make the system worthwhile to our Choosers, we’ll need to provide features that meet their unique needs. Many of these will likely stem from their agents’ ability to bring in new business and close sales, but may also include things like understanding the types of properties their agents are transacting (and what types are likely to transact successfully), the number of times their agents are reaching out to prospects, and who the most productive agents are.

So our product needs to include features such as reporting on listing trends, providing insights into communication trends between agents and prospects, and ranking agent profitability.

And, we need to do all of this without sacrificing the agent’s usr experience.

Although our Choosers (brokers) are paying for the product, they’ll derive no value from it unless our Users (agents) find enough value in it for themselves to continue to using it. For example, brokers will find a lot of value in understanding the number of times that an agent reaches out to a prospect, and how that number correlates to the the likelihood of closing a listing. But, an agent won’t log those interactions into the system without getting some value out of that action themselves. This means that in addition to the broker facing feature of correlating interactions to listings, we also need to design an additional agent facing feature that incentivizes them to log their interactions in the first place, such as letting an agent know when it’s been more than two weeks since they reached out to a prospect. Otherwise, agents won’t log their interactions and brokers won’t have anything to report on. And if our Users don’t find enough value to keep using our product, then our Choosers won’t find enough value to continue to pay for it.

So What Do We Do About It?

So, what do we do about this? First need to understand who are Choosers and Users are, and whether or not they’re the same person. Next, we need to determine the incentives for each group to use our product. What do our Users hope to get from our product and what do our Choosers hope to get from it? And finally, we need to understand how the incentives for the Users will create value for the Choosers…or if gaps exist where they don’t. For example, what element of value do Choosers wish to derive that Users are not incentivized to provide? Once we understand where these gaps exist then we can design features and flows to help create the value expected by both.

By keeping this in mind, we can ensure that we create not only a product that our Users will love, but also a product that our Choosers will pay for. And then, everyone will be happy.

 

This post was originally published on the Front Row Agile blog.

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Product Backlog

Splitting User Stories Across Teams

I recently received a question by email wondering if large user stories should be split across teams.  The question was so interesting that I thought I would summarize my response here.

Sometimes large user stories are broken down into smaller stories that are tackled by multiple teams.  For example, imagine that your organization has two teams: a team that owns your web application and a team that owns your mobile application.  If you are releasing a feature across both platforms you may originally start with that feature described as a single user story but then split the story in two as each team tackles their respective implementations.

When multiple teams work on a single product we like to keep a single Product Backlog that all teams share. This lets the Product Owner see the big picture at any given time which helps keep them focused on the overall vision for the product.

Even if a larger story that will ultimately be split across several teams we tend to keep it as a single story during the Product Backlog phase.  This helps to prevent us from getting mired in the weeds of each story too early and makes the story easier to move up and down the backlog as new priorities emerge.

Product Backlog

Keeping the story as a single unit also it makes it easier to assign an estimate to.  Admittedly, we know that the estimate won’t be as accurate as if we broke the story down and estimated each individual part, but that’s ok.  We accept that estimates are less reliable during this stage and only use them for getting an idea of the complexity of a story relative to other stories in the backlog.

Splitting User Stories During Sprint Planning

However, during Sprint Planning the top stories in the product backlog are moved into a separate Sprint Backlog for each team. At this point those same large stories are broken down and split into separate stories for each team, who then take this opportunity to estimate their individual portions. The sum of those estimates may add back up to match the original estimate of the large story, but don’t be surprised if they don’t.  Breaking larger stories down into smaller stories often tends to expose gaps that we didn’t originally consider when the story was in its larger form, so new stories may emerge as a result.

Product to Sprint Backlog

Allowing each team to work from their own Sprint Backlog minimizes the number of dependencies each team needs to complete their work.  We want each team to have as many of the skills as possible to complete a valuable increment of the product during each sprint, which is one of the reasons why we strive to make scrum teams cross-functional.  If a team can still deliver a valuable increment themselves, then we want that work split only into the portion that they can complete.

In addition, Velocity is our primary planning metric in scrum.  Teams who estimate in story points eventually start to evolve those points to the range that makes the most sense for each team.  Put another way, a story point for one team may be wildly different than a story point for another team.  This flexibility is what gives story points their power as each team starts to assign the most accurate value to each point that makes sense to them.

The side effect of this, however, is that the Velocity of two different teams can start to vary wildly even if each team is completing roughly the same amount of work.  For this reason we want to be able to map a separately velocity to each team which better represents the amount of work they’re completing during a sprint rather than trying to roll all velocities into a single number.  This gives us a more accurate representation of how much each team tends to complete during each sprint, which lets us plan the overall product even better.

Want to learn even more ways to split your user stories so your team can start working with them immediately? Check out my course, Creating Effective User Stories, for easy techniques that will have you writing better user stories today.

Don’t have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

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User Stories, Themes, and Epics are often represented by sticky notes

Themes versus Epics in 2 Minutes

The difference between themes and epics are a common sticking point for many teams first diving in to user stories. Not only can descriptions of both topics often be vague, but the difference is often muddled further by many project management tools that use the two terms interchangeably. However, the difference doesn’t have to be so hard.

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railroad spike

Stop Estimating Spikes!

The most common question that teams face when first working with spikes is whether or not to estimate these stories. Luckily the answer is simple…don’t.

The whole point of spikes is to help us learn more about stories that we don’t yet know enough about to estimate well. This very unknown nature means that estimating the spike itself would be fruitless. Instead, our goal is to learn enough during the spike that we can estimate the associated story in an upcoming sprint.

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Meet the Timestamp Sticky

It’s no secret that teams who track their progress using physical tools rather than electronic have have a much higher rate of success, but how do you handle of the fear of sticky notes falling off the wall?

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Stories versus Themes versus Epics

When a new team is just beginning to adopt Scrum the difference between stories, themes, and epics always seem to be a source of some confusion. In particular, where stories end and epics begin tends to be a particular sticking point. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each artifact to get a better understanding of the subtle differences between them so we can better communicate to our teams when each is appropriate for the work at hand.

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