Sunday, February 02, 2014

User Stories - How they're Useful

All too often, organizations spend a stupid amount of time talking about what information should go into User Stories and how their content should be structured.  They forget to ask the question, what do we want User Stories to do for us?

Typically, people see Users Stories as a tool to answer one question: "What do the developers need to code?"

In a TDD oriented environment and, surprisingly to a lesser extent, when there is a separate QA team, User Stories, people use User Stories to answer the next question: "What needs to be validated to accomplished our goal?"

One question that doesn't get asked, though is "How do we keep the Product Owner accountable for what we produce?"

"That's not what we talked about."

When demo happens, what's demoed may not match what the Product Owner may have in mind.  When this happens, the conversation can quickly devolve into a "well you said..." conversation where there is no record.  This both negatively impacts the team's relationship with the Product Owner and wastes valuable time.

Stories provide a snapshot of requirements at a given sprint.

With a recorded User Story, the team and Product Owner can review the Story, review what was discussed in the story (ideally relatively close to when work started), and move forward.
  • What was ambiguous in the Story?
  • What Questions did we not ask?  What did we not write down?
  • How can we improve on our stories the next time?

By improving the story development process, a team can greatly reduce rework and avoid contentious conversations with the customer.

"Is this behavior by design or is it a bug?"

Far into the future into production support, the User Story can further aid in answering the super contentious question: "Is this behavior by design or is it a bug?"  This is a pretty overloaded question.
  • When was this feature originally developed?  
  • What was the expected behavior at this time?
  • Does the observed software behavior meet this?
  • Do current customer processes meet these?
The longer this question is discussed without any hard answers, the greater the negative impact it can have on the Team/Product Owner relationship.  This question also greatly impacts whether the solution will be an End User behavior change, a bug fix (typically paid for by the Team budget), or a new feature (typically paid for by the Customer's budget).

Without these scenarios in mind, User Story development can easily have a Fire and Forget mentality.  This can lead to a lot of avoidable costs and negative impacts on customer/team relationships.  Next time I'll talk about more questions people should think about when performing User Story Development.

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