Tag Archives: requirements

Pitfall of Scrum: Excessive Preparation/Planning

Regular big up-front planning is not necessary with Scrum. Instead, a team can just get started and use constant feedback in the Sprint Review to adjust it’s plans. Even the Product Backlog can be created after the first Sprint has started. All that is really necessary to get started is a Scrum Team, a product vision, and a decision on Sprint length. In this extreme case, the Scrum Team itself would decide what to build in its first Sprint and use the time of the Sprint to also prepare some initial Product Backlog Items. Then, the first Sprint Review would allow stakeholders to provide feedback and further develop the Product Backlog. The empirical nature of Scrum could even allow the Product Owner to emerge from the business stakeholders, rather than being assigned to the team right from the start.

Starting a Sprint without a Product Backlog is not easy, but it can be done. The team has to know at least a little about the business, and there should be some (possibly informal) project or product charter that they are aware of. The team uses this super basic information and decides on their own what to build in their first Sprint. Again, the focus should be on getting something that can be demoed (and potentially shippable). The team is likely to build some good stuff and some things that are completely wrong… but the point is to get the Inspect and Adapt cycle started as quickly as possible. Which means of course that they need to have stakeholders (customers, users) actually attend the demo at the end of the Sprint. The Product Owner may or may not even be involved in this first Sprint.

One important reason this is sometimes a good approach is the culture of “analysis paralysis” that exists in some organizations. In this situation, an organization is unable to do anything because they are so concerned about getting things right. Scrum is a framework for inspect and adapt and that can (and does) include the Product Backlog. Is it better for a team to sit idle while someone tries to do sufficient preparation? Or is it better to get started and inspect and adapt? This is actually a philosophical question (as well as a practical question). The mindset and philosophy of the Agile Manifesto and Scrum is that trying to produce valuable software is more important that documentation… that individuals and how they work together is more important than rigidly following a process or tool. I will agree that in many cases it is acceptable to do some up-front work, but it should be minimized, particularly when it is preventing people from starting to deliver value. The case of a team getting started without a product backlog is rare… but it can be a great way for a team to help an organization overcome analysis paralysis.

The Agile Manifesto is very clear: “The BEST architectures, requirements and designs emerge out of self-organizing teams.” [Emphasis added.]

Hugely memorable for me is the story that Ken Schwaber told in the CSM course that I took from him in 2003.  This is a paraphrase of that story:

I [Ken Schwaber] was talking to the CIO of a large IT organization.  The CIO told me that his projects last twelve to eighteen months and at the end, he doesn’t get what he needs.  I told him, “Scrum can give you what you don’t need in a month.”

I experienced this myself in a profound way just a couple years into my career as an Agile coach and trainer.  I was working with a department of a large technology organization.  They had over one hundred people who had been working on Agile pilot projects.  The department was responsible for a major product and executive management had approved a complete re-write.  The product managers and Product Owners had done a lot of work to prepare a product backlog (about 400 items!) that represented all the existing functionality of the product that needed to be re-written.  But, the big question, “what new technology platform do we use for the re-write?” had not yet been resolved.  The small team of architects were tasked with making this decision.  But they got stuck.  They got stuck for three months.  Finally, the director of the department, who had learned to trust my advice in other circumstances, asked me, “does Scrum have any techniques for making these kind of architectural decisions?”

I said, “yes, but you probably won’t like what Scrum recommends!”

She said, “actually, we’re pretty desperate.  I’ve got over a hundred people effectively sitting idle for the last three months.  What does Scrum recommend?”

“Just start.  Let the teams figure out the platform as they try to implement functionality.”

She thought for a few seconds.  Finally she said, “okay.  Come by this Monday and help me launch our first Sprint.”

The amazing thing was that the teams didn’t lynch me when on Monday she announced that “our Agile consultant says we don’t need to know our platform in order to get started.”

The first Sprint (two weeks long) was pretty chaotic.  But, with some coaching and active support of management, they actually delivered a working increment of their product.  And decided on the platform to use for the rest of the two-year project.

You must trust your team.

If your organization is spending more than a few days preparing for the start of a project, it is probably suffering from this pitfall.  This is the source of great waste and lost opportunity.  Use Scrum to rapidly converge on the correct solutions to your business problems instead of wasting person-years of time on analysis and planning.  We can help with training and coaching to give you the tools to start fast using Scrum and to fix your Scrum implementation.

This article is a follow-up article to the 24 Common Scrum Pitfalls written back in 2011.

[UPDATE: 2015/08/19] I’ve just added a video to the “Myths of Scrum” YouTube series that adds a bit to this:


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Summary of User Stories: The Three “C”s and INVEST

User Stories

Learning Objectives

Becoming familiar with the “User Story” approach to formulating Product Backlog Items and how it can be implemented to improve the communication of user value and the overall quality of the product by facilitating a user-centric approach to development.

Consider the following

User stories trace their origins to eXtreme Programming, another Agile method with many similarities to Scrum. Scrum teams often employ aspects of eXtreme Programming, including user stories as well as engineering practices such as refactoring, test-driven development (TDD) and pair programming to name a few. In future modules of this program, you will have the opportunity to become familiar enough with some of these practices in order to understand their importance in delivering quality products and how you can encourage your team to develop them. For now, we will concentrate on the capability of writing good user stories.

The Three ‘C’si

A User Story has three primary components, each of which begin with the letter ‘C’:

Card

  • The Card, or written text of the User Story is best understood as an invitation to conversation. This is an important concept, as it fosters the understanding that in Scrum, you don’t have to have all of the Product Backlog Items written out perfectly “up front”, before you bring them to the team. It acknowledges that the customer and the team will be discovering the underlying business/system needed as they are working on it. This discovery occurs through conversation and collaboration around user stories.
  • The Card is usually follows the format similar to the one below

As a <user role> of the product,

I can <action>

So that <benefit>.

  • In other words, the written text of the story, the invitation to a conversation, must address the “who”, “what” and “why” of the story.
  • Note that there are two schools of thought on who the <benefit> should be for. Interactive design specialists (like Alan Cooper) tell us that everything needs to be geared towards not only the user but a user Persona with a name, photo, bio, etc. Other experts who are more focused on the testability of the business solution (like Gojko Adzic) say that the benefit should directly address an explicit business goal. Imagine if you could do both at once! You can, and this will be discussed further in more advanced modules.

Conversation

  • The collaborative conversation facilitated by the Product Owner which involves all stakeholders and the team.
  • As much as possible, this is an in-person conversation.
  • The conversation is where the real value of the story lies and the written Card should be adjusted to reflect the current shared understanding of this conversation.
  • This conversation is mostly verbal but most often supported by documentation and ideally automated tests of various sorts (e.g. Acceptance Tests).

Confirmation

  • The Product Owner must confirm that the story is complete before it can be considered “done”
  • The team and the Product Owner check the “doneness” of each story in light of the Team’s current definition of “done”
  • Specific acceptance criteria that is different from the current definition of “done” can be established for individual stories, but the current criteria must be well understood and agreed to by the Team.  All associated acceptance tests should be in a passing state.

INVESTii

The test for determining whether or not a story is well understood and ready for the team to begin working on it is the INVEST acronym:

I – Independent

  • The solution can be implemented by the team independently of other stories.  The team should be expected to break technical dependencies as often as possible – this may take some creative thinking and problem solving as well as the Agile technical practices such as refactoring.

N – Negotiable

  • The scope of work should have some flex and not be pinned down like a traditional requirements specification.  As well, the solution for the story is not prescribed by the story and is open to discussion and collaboration, with the final decision for technical implementation being reserved for the Development Team.

V – Valuable

  • The business value of the story, the “why”, should be clearly understood by all. Note that the “why” does not necessarily need to be from the perspective of the user. “Why” can address a business need of the customer without necessarily providing a direct, valuable result to the end user. All stories should be connected to clear business goals.  This does not mean that a single user story needs to be a marketable feature on its own.

E – Estimable

  • The team should understand the story well enough to be able estimate the complexity of the work and the effort required to deliver the story as a potentially shippable increment of functionality.  This does not mean that the team needs to understand all the details of implementation in order to estimate the user story.

S – Small

  • The item should be small enough that the team can deliver a potentially shippable increment of functionality within a single Sprint. In fact, this should be considered as the maximum size allowable for any Product Backlog Item as it gets close to the top of the Product Backlog.  This is part of the concept of Product Backlog refinement that is an ongoing aspect of the work of the Scrum Team.

T – Testable

  • Everyone should understand and agree on how the completion of the story will be verified. The definition of “done” is one way of establishing this. If everyone agrees that the story can be implemented in a way that satisfies the current definition of “done” in a single Sprint and this definition of “done” includes some kind of user acceptance test, then the story can be considered testable.

Note: The INVEST criteria can be applied to any Product Backlog Item, even those that aren’t written as User Stories.

Splitting Stories:

Sometimes a user story is too big to fit into a Sprint. Some ways of splitting a story include:

  • Split by process step
  • Split by I/O channel
  • Split by user options
  • Split by role/persona
  • Split by data range

WARNING: Do not split stories by system, component, architectural layer or development process as this will conflict with the teams definition of “done” and undermine the ability of the team to deliver potentially shippable software every Sprint.

Personas

Like User Stories, Personas are a tool for interactive design. The purpose of personas is to develop a precise description of our user and so that we can develop stories that describe what he wishes to accomplish. In other words, a persona is a much more developed and specific “who” for our stories. The more specific we make our personas, the more effective they are as design tools.iii

Each of our fictional but specific users should have the following information:

  • Name
  • Occupation
  • Relationship to product
  • Interest & personality
  • Photo

Only one persona should be the primary persona and we should always build for the primary persona. User story cards using personas replace the user role with the persona:

<persona>

can <action>

so that <benefit>.

 


i The Card, Conversation, Confirmation model was first proposed by Ron Jeffries in 2001.

ii INVEST in Good Stories, and SMART Tasks. Bill Wake. http://xp123.com/articles/invest-in-good-stories-and-smart-tasks/

iii The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Alan Cooper. Sams Publishing. 1999. pp. 123-128.


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Comparison of the ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Project Manager and Team Lead Roles

Often in my classes, I’m asked for a clear comparison between the various traditional roles and the new roles in Scrum.  Here is a high level summary of some of the key responsibilities and activities that help highlight some important differences between these four roles:

ScrumMaster Product Owner Project Manager Team Lead
NEVER NEVER Assign Tasks YES
NO PARTICIPATES Create Schedule NO
NO YES Manage Budget NO
Remove Obstacles PARTICIPATES YES YES
NO Define Business Requirements PARTICIPATES NO
NO YES (Deliveries) Define Milestones NO
Facilitate Meetings NO YES YES
YES (process and people) YES (business) Risk Management PARTICIPATES
Organizational Change Agent NO NO NO
NO Accountable for Business Results RARELY (just costs) NO

Of course, there are many other ways we could compare these four roles.  What would you like me to add to this list?  Add a comment with a question or a suggestion and I will update the table appropriately!


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The Rules of Scrum: The Product Backlog is refined to ensure it is ready for every Sprint Planning meeting

Product Backlog Items closest to the top of the Product Backlog should be small enough for the team to be able to complete at least one potentially shippable slice of the product in the next Sprint.  As well, they should be ready for the Sprint Planning meeting so that the team can plan its work for the Sprint.  To be ready for the Sprint Planning Meeting, each PBI must be estimated.  Generally speaking, Product Backlog Items at the top of the Product Backlog are clearer and more detailed than lower ones. More precise estimates are made based on the greater clarity and increased detail; the lower the order, the less detail. Product Backlog items that will occupy the Development Team for the upcoming Sprint are fine-grained, having been decomposed so that at least one item can be “Done” within the Sprint time-box. Product Backlog items that can be “Done” by the Development Team within one Sprint are deemed “ready” or “actionable” for selection in a Sprint Planning Meeting.  Having too many items in the Product Backlog “ready” for the team is considered wasteful over-planning, although generally the top ten items should be in this “ready” state.  The value of having a refined Product Backlog before the Spring Planning Meeting is that it enables the Scrum team to focus on the purpose of the Sprint Planning Meeting which is to answer these questions: What will be delivered in the Increment resulting from the upcoming Sprint and how will the work needed to deliver the Increment be achieved? Essentially, what is the Spring goal and what are the tasks needed to complete the goal?  Without a ready Product Backlog, the purpose of the Sprint Planning Meeting is difficult to achieve.


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The Rules of Scrum: Known defects (external quality) generally are ordered at the top of the Product Backlog to be fixed in the next Sprint

One of the key benefits of the using Scrum is that it allows the team to quickly identify defects and obstacles.  Now that the team has made these known, the team has the ability to remove and fix these defects.  What is the value of identifying problems in the product when nothing is done to repair them?  The team will become much faster if it can improve the quality on its own by removing known defects and making the software better.  Then the team will be able to take on more audacious goals instead of being weighed down by quality problems.  Moving known defects to the top of the Product Backlog places quality work as a central goal for the team to achieve which directly improves the product, makes customers and users of the software much happier and invigorates the team to continue to become more effective.  Placing known defects away from the top of the Product Backlog causes morale challenges, acceptance by the team of poor quality work and creates an atmosphere of apathy.  These are likely to cause a failure by the Scrum Team to deliver on its goals.


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The Rules of Scrum: PBIs are invitations to conversations, not detailed specifications

Product Backlog Items are brief descriptions of a feature or function.  Usually they are short enough that they could be hand-written on a small note card.  This brevity is meant to be just enough information so that the Product Owner and the team can use the PBIs as invitations to conversations.  The resulting conversation (ongoing, evolving and involving the whole team and stakeholders) and the shared understanding that comes from that conversation is where the real value of the PBI resides.  Part of the conversation occurs when the Product Owner initially writes the PBI so that the team can estimate the effort of building it.  Part of the conversation is the actual work being done during a Sprint.  Another part of the conversation is during the Sprint Review when stakeholders see the results of the team building the PBIs.  If one creates PBIs as detailed specifications then we are essentially handcuffing the team into a set path and a prescriptive solution.  The reason we hire qualified people onto our Scrum Team is for their knowledge, experience, and problem solving abilities.  If we lock them into a set path, then we are literally turning them into cogs in a machine to spit out specific code.  PBIs that are invitations to conversations allow them the flexibility to figure out how to solve the problem by engaging in a conversation on what is needed.


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The Rules of Scrum: PBIs are written as User Stories (“As a ___ I can ___ so that ___”)

The User Story is a tool developed with Extreme Programming that is almost universally accepted as part of Scrum.  The User Story format is an effective way of communicating end user value to the Scrum Team.  The first blank is a user (a person, not a system), the second blank is the action of the story (unique), and the third blank is the benefit (for any stakeholder, and outside the system).  A User Story is made up of three “C’s”: Card, Conversation and Confirmation.  The Card is the written version of the story (usually a physical card on the wall).  It is considered to be an “invitation to a conversation”.  The Conversation is where the real value resides and potentially involves all stakeholders. The Conversation can cause changes to the Card.  Confirmation is the acceptance criteria that, when tested against, confirms the valuable result of the story.  A User Story is an extremely effective way of creating light and conversational PBIs – this is why many Scrum teams use them.  Another way to view User Stories is that it tells any reader the “who”, the “what”, and the “why” – who cares about this, what is the need/action, and why does the person want this.  This is just enough information to make sure that an effective conversation occurs.


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