Story Identification for Newbies

Event Modeling is Easy Story Identification Technique

For those new to Scrum, Story identification can seem intimidating. Even if you follow our guidelines in Chapter 3 – GSD Gold Approach to Story Writing, you may still have writer’s block. Event modeling is one of my favorite go to methods that get my Story writing juices flowing.

Every Story has a beginning, middle and ending. The Event kicks off the beginning of the process we want implemented, the Story Description outlines the what’s and why’s of the process, and the Acceptance Criteria instructs the reader how to tell if the Story has a happy or sad ending.

Simple.

It all starts with the Event.

Once you know the highest priority Epics and Component deliverables that must be implemented first, then brainstorm and list all the reasons why the Customer accesses the online portion of your application. Because I’ve previously written about the Customer Account Maintenance Component of an Online Banking app in my post Write Better Stories, I’ll use that same example, but approach Story identification from an Event Modeling perspective.

Here are just a few Customer Account Maintenance Online Events:

  • Customer receives Welcome Letter and wants to setup Online Access
  • Customer wants to setup Mobile Access
  • Customer wants to update personal information, such as physical addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, etc.
  • Customer cannot remember password
  • Customer wants to change password

Each one of these Events represents at least one Story that starts with “As an online banking customer, I want to…so that I can…”

Once you’ve exhausted all the Events that describe reasons why the Customer wants access the application, then brainstorm all back-end processes needed to support the online ones.

Some back-end Events could include:

  • New Customer application approval generates Welcome Letter to access new account
  • Customer account password expires
  • Customer incorrect password attempts triggers online account lock
  • By viewing the application from the Customer perspective, isn’t it easier to identify what Stories to write?

What tips and techniques do you use to get your Story writing juices flowing? Do share!

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

 

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

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How Big is Too Big for a Scrum Team?

You May Need to Divide Your Project into More than One Scrum Team

In Chapter 1 of the GSD Scrum Handbook, we talk about the size of the GSD Gold scrum team. What is the right number of team members? The Scrum Alliance recommends a scrum team size of no more than 9 members. At GSD Mindset, we also recommend organizing a scrum team with all the skills to complete quality work valued by the customer: Product Owner, Scrum Master, Tech Lead or Architect, Business Analyst (to help Product Owner write Stories), Programmers and Quality Assurance (QA) testers.

A scrum team size of 9 members may be optimal for Scrum, however your project may need a bigger team to complete all the required work on time. In Agile projects as well as Traditional projects, we face the same Time-Scope-Budget triangle constraints. When Time is fixed, sometimes upper management agrees to add Budget, and then your boss goes out and hires more team members.

How Do You Know When the Team is Too Big?

One indicator that helps determine whether or not a scrum team could be too big is the length of standup. If your team sticks to the constructs of standup and they cannot complete the meeting in less than 15 minutes, the scrum team may be too big.

Large scrum teams developing lots of features that cross multiple business boundaries can be another indicator. If you notice scrum team members stop paying attention half way through standup, retrospective or sprint planning, then dividing the team is a good way to speed up those meetings up and keep everyone engaged.

There are lots of reasons why teams get unwieldy and difficult to manage. If you’ve got 10+ team members on the same scrum team and you feel like the team is becoming inefficient, it probably is inefficient.

How Do We Split the Scrum Team?

Identifying the need to split one team into two teams is easy; deciding how to divide the teams is not always easy. We at GSD Mindset believe all the roles listed above are required to form a competent team. We  want you to continue this practice as you plan for and hire new scrum team resources.

When management wants to get more stuff done, their first thought is to hire more programmers. However, if you double the number of programmers without hiring QA testers, QA becomes a bottleneck. If you don’t hire another Business Analyst to help the Product Owner write Stories, grooming and sprint planning can get delayed.

Yes, you can share the same Product Owner, Scrum Master, Tech Lead and Business Analyst across 2 teams that share the same Backlog when you add 2-3 new programmers. We do encourage you to keep the ratio of programmers to QA testers at 3:1 if possible.

Of course, your application may require a different mix of players. The important takeaway here to remember that as your scrum team grows and splits into more scrum teams, keep in mind: The correct mix of team players ensures maximum throughput.

How Many Scrum Teams Can Pull from One Backlog?

Scrum teams with shared Backlogs continue to share the same grooming sessions, sprint planning and retrospectives. Those meetings may still be unwieldy, because you only really divided the development and QA aspect of completing Stories. Consider this before you decide to divide and still share.

I once worked successfully with 3 scrum teams pulling from a shared Backlog. The combined team supported multiple applications and the Engineering Manager wanted all the programmers to have the knowledge to work on any one of them, depending on the needs of the Product Owner. Keeping Stories written and groomed became challenging, so each scrum team added their own Business Analyst to help write Stories. The burden fell on the Product Owner to ensure the right mix of high-priority Stories were ready for sprint planning. Our original scrum team organically grew from 1 to 3 teams over the course of 2 years, with the same Product Owner and Scrum Master, so they were experienced enough to handle a Backlog with hundreds of Stories.

I would not recommend 3 teams sharing 1 Backlog for those new to Scrum.

I would never attempt to manage 4 teams from a shared Backlog.

How Do We Divide the Backlog?

If you divided your functional requirements into independent feature sets or Epics as described in Chapter 2 of the GSD Scrum Handbook and you include Epic as one of your Story attributes in your agile project management tool (like JIRA or VersionOne), then you can easily start a new project and divide the Backlog. If not, then you need to properly attribute your Stories with an Epic.

If you are dividing 1 scrum team into 2 scrum teams, the Product Owner, Business Analyst and Tech Lead should review the Epics and organize them so the 2 sets of Epics have the least amount of overlap. The 2 scrum teams must be organized so they can independently complete their Stories.

After the split:

  • Each scrum team must be able to close Stories without relying on the other scrum team to complete any work
  • Cross-team knowledge sharing is appropriate.
  • Cross-team pair programming is not appropriate.

How Do We Divide the Team?

Agile is about self-managing teams. As tempting as it may be for the Engineering Manager or Product Owner to divide the scrum teams based on tribal knowledge about the Epics in each Backlog, don’t do it! Let the teams divide themselves and pick their own team members.

Organizing for success is not always easy.

Think about what stuff needs to get done and think outside the box.

 

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

 

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

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A Spike Story Should Get Story Points Too

Assigning Story Points to each Spike Story Improves Epic Planning Accuracy

In Scrum, we have a special type of Story called a Spike. The Product Owner or another team member writes a Spike Story when the team does not understand the requirement well enough to write a Story or architect a solution.

The Spike Story requirement describes what the team needs to learn or test before they can move forward with product development. Since all Stories must add value, the Spike acceptance criteria describes what must be completed or decided to provide closure. 

Example Spike use cases could include:

  • Install and become familiar with a new software tool.
  • Compare and analyze two similar architecture solutions in order to choose one to move forward with.
  • Research a long-standing issue or bug before designing a solution.

Why Write a Spike Story?

Scrum expects that the Development Team knows enough about the Story requirements to size the level of effort in Story Points to deliver the solution within the Sprint. When the team does not understand enough about how to develop the solution, the team acknowledges the fact and writes a Spike Story for the Backlog.

Use the power of the Spike sparingly. A Spike Story is not the same as Analysis and Design, which should be part of the lifecycle of every Story. A Spike Story has an outcome that allows the team to move forward with the real Story. In addition to the learning goal as acceptance criteria, another good practice is to add acceptance criteria that includes writing the successor Story and putting it in the Backlog as candidate for next Sprint.

Why Assign Story Points?

Most who practice Scrum do not assign Story Points to Spike Stories. We at GSD Mindset disagree. The output from a Spike Story is increased team knowledge that leads to better overall solution design. By assigning Story Points to a Spike, you also limit the level of effort expended to close it, so the team doesn’t get lost down some rat hole researching a new tool or attempting to resolve an issue.

It’s About Predictable Velocity for Planning

Energy expended to complete a Spike Story takes away from available energy spent to complete another Story from the Backlog. We at GSD Mindset believe everything brought into a Sprint should have Story Points, so you can better predict the total amount of work the team can complete within the Sprint.

Since Velocity is also used to estimate the length of time required to build an Epic, any background research or creation of small prototypes to try out potential solution architectures should be included in all planning estimates. Assigning Story Points to Spike Stories and including those points in the overall estimate for the Epic helps increase the accuracy of your team’s estimated time to completion.

What are your thoughts? Does your team size Spikes?

 

 

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

 

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

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Reducing Sprint Velocity may be better for your Scrum Team

Does your Scrum Team need to Buffer Sprint Velocity?

Consistent Sprint Velocity is key to predictable delivery in the real world. If your team’s Sprint Velocity is erratic, it’s hard to determine what to bring into the Sprint Backlog and to meet your Sprint commitments.

Not all scrum teams have the luxury of only working on new development. If your team supports production applications, emergencies may occur that divert the team’s energy. If this happens on a regular basis, it no doubt wreaks havoc on your Burndown. By introducing the concept of a Sprint Buffer, which consciously reduces the number of Story Points brought into the Sprint, the team acknowledges the reality of production emergencies and this helps level out Sprint Velocity.

How does a Sprint Buffer Work?

First, analyze your team’s performance over the last 6 Sprints.
On average, by how much does the team miss its Sprint commitment?

For example, let’s say your team believes they have the capacity to complete 32 Story Points each Sprint.  If your team regularly commits to 32 Story Points, but consistently closes only 26 Story Points and the 6 point miss is because the team is sidetracked by production emergencies, you can face reality and attempt to stabilize Sprint Velocity by giving the team a 20% Sprint Buffer. Reduce the next Sprint Backlog to 26 Story Points. If few or no production issues occur, you can always bring in additional Stories.

Second, track the Sprint Buffer as part of your Sprint statistics.

Every time a team member gets assigned a production issue or emergency to work on, add a Buffer Story to the Sprint Backlog. Do not assign the Buffer Story any Story Points or assign it zero points, because it does not contribute to your Sprint. At the end of the Sprint, record the number of unplanned Buffer Stories completed by the team along with Sprint Velocity as part of your statistics.

Combine Bugs with Project Work in the Backlog

Review every Buffer Story the team is asked to work before adding it into the Sprint Backlog. Is the issue truly an emergency? If the issue is not System Down or there is a workaround to the problem, put the issue into the Backlog as a Bug.

At Story Grooming, size the Bug along with the Stories written by the Product Owner. With a combined Backlog, both new Stories and Bugs can be planned for and brought into Sprints. This technique also helps reduce the Sprint Buffer, while increasing predictability.

Why should planned Bugs get Story Points? This forces the team to think about the level of effort required to fix them. Depending on your Sprint goals, your Product Owner now has the luxury of weighing the amount of development work that must be completed in the upcoming Sprint against the business need to fix high-priority Bugs.

Review the Sprint Buffer Every 3-4 Sprints

The number of production issues worked on each Sprint can vary widely and be unpredictable. Plus, now your team is working on both Bugs and development Stories pulled from a combined Backlog. Every 3-4 Retrospectives, review the number of Buffer Stories that truly require immediate resolution and adjust the Sprint Buffer if needed.

Acknowledge Sprint Buffer Risk to Release Dates

I realize that reducing the team’s capacity appears to dramatically increase the risk that your team will not meet its release dates. But, you already had the same risk, when you missed your Sprint commitments on a regular basis.

Now, however, if your team is on a tight schedule, you raise the realized risk to management and the Sprint Statistics explain the cause. Enlist management to help your team decide criteria for Emergency (work now) vs. Backlog (work when have time).

I’d love to learn how your team manages production issues with project work. Do tell.

 

 

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

 

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

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Agile Scrum Story Size for Newbies

An Easy Way to Estimate Agile Scrum Story Size for Your First Sprint

Your team is new to estimating Agile Scrum Story Size. You planned for your first release as discussed in Why Your Scrum Team Needs a Release Plan. Your Product Owner wrote Stories that meet the criteria described in Write Better Stories and Why Every Story should have Acceptance Criteria. You have candidate Stories for your first Sprint Backlog.

You are ready for your first Story Grooming Session.

Two activities occur at Story Grooming:

  1. Review Stories for clarity, to ensure everyone understands the requirement.
  2. Assign a relative Size to each Story, so your team can begin tracking Velocity.

Your team should be able to decide whether or not the Story makes sense. However, deciding relative Story Size often causes consternation for new teams. Most teams are happy to move away from estimating work in hours. But, when you are new to the concept of relative sizing, it’s hard to know where to start.

Some are taught to use tee shirt sizing: Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. But, that doesn’t quite help assign a numbered-size, does it?

Many are taught to assign Story Points based on the Fibonacci Sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 … We are taught that each number in the sequence represents twice the level of effort as the previous number. But, that doesn’t really help either.

In Agile Scrum, we learn that accepted Stories must be validated as ready to move to Production. Therefore, the level of effort for each Story must take into account the complete development lifecycle, from design to spec to code to code review to quality assurance testing.

Start with the Development Lifecycle

At GSD Mindset, we teach newbies to initially size Stories using the Fibonacci Sequence based on their gut feel for the level of effort required to complete development lifecycle aspect of each Story.

We recommend the following guidelines to help new teams get started:
Size the Story based on the effort it takes for 1 Developer and Tester to complete it.

For a two-week Sprint:

If the team thinks the Story takes 1-2 days of effort, assign 1 or 2 Story Points
If the team thinks the Story takes about a half week of effort, assign 3 Story Points
If the team thinks the Story takes about a week of effort, assign 5 Story Points
If the team thinks the Story could take the entire Sprint, assign 8 Story Points

If a story is larger than 8 Story Points, divide it into multiple Stories. We do not recommend bringing a Story larger than 8 Story Points into your two-week Sprint.

Use an easy method for group estimating like Planning Poker to reach consensus.

When discussing individual estimates, always question extreme high and low estimates. We all know that some requirements are quick to code, but complicated to test. If the team has trouble deciding, error on the side of caution, especially for your first Sprint.

If the Story is not well understood or cannot be sized, 3 things should happen:

  1. Update the Story and Acceptance Criteria to be clear
  2. Break down large Stories greater than 8 Story Points into smaller Stories
  3. Place vague Stories back into the Backlog for refinement

How Many Story Points for Your First Sprint?

If our initial sizing method dictates that it takes a Developer and Tester an entire two-week Sprint to complete an 8-Point Story, we recommend the team bring in 8 Story Points per Developer. For example, if the team has 1 Tech Lead (who doesn’t code), 4 Developers, 2 Quality Assurance Testers and 1 Business Systems Analyst, bring in 32 Story Points.

Then Develop Your Own Method of Story Point Estimates

After one or two Sprints, review the accuracy of your Story sizes (you’ll only be right half the time) and use the Stories the team feels accurately represent a 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8 as examples during Story Grooming going forward.

Don’t overthink it.

And please, please, please don’t estimate in hours.

I’d be interested to learn how your team got started.

 

 

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

 

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

 

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