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User Stories: My knowledge bank of “value”able reads

I have been writing user stories for more than couple of years now. I am still learning and improving. And every story I write next – I try to improve it: Bring “value” to it. As a group manager of few online agile/scrum groups, I see many experienced people struggling to understand the concept of user stories.

Even met people who claim to have quite some experience in writing user stories – but when you hand them a card and pen, they go blank.

With respect to user stories few points need to be remembered:

1) They are from “users” perspective – So PLEASE involve the customer/user of the system while writing (Better let THEM write, if your org allows that)

2) A user story w/o an acceptance criteria is like a human w/o spinal cord.

3) There’s NO such thing as a PERFECT story – the dev team with product owner and customer have to come to an agreement to say the story is GOOD to go and can be used by development team for breaking down into tasks.

With all that said which can be debated as EVERYONE has a opinion, I started putting together some knowledge base for user stories. If you can help contribute to these links, PLEASE feel free to comment on this post and help point to valuable content related to user stories:

What are user stories? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_story

INVEST: http://xp123.com/xplor/xp0308/index.shtml

@mikewcohn: http://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/topics/user-stories

@scottwambler: http://www.agilemodeling.com/artifacts/userStory.htm

@agilescout: http://agilescout.com/presentation-writing-better-user-stories/

http://agilescout.com/agile-guide-estimating-user-stories-in-agile/

http://agilescout.com/agile-user-stories-specific-role-names/

@mlevison http://agilepainrelief.com/notesfromatooluser/2010/09/story-slicing-how-small-is-enough.html

http://agilepainrelief.com/notesfromatooluser/2010/12/more-notes-on-story-splitting.html

@peterstev: http://www.scrum-breakfast.com/2008/02/explaining-story-points-to-management.html

@davidjbland: http://www.scrumology.net/tag/story-points/

There’s a LOT of information out on internet that can help you learn about user stories – if you’re a member of scrum alliance, there are valuable reads on their site submitted by agile practitioners. But NOTHING can get you the experience unless u start writing them yourself.

So, what are you waiting for: Grab a index card, a pen (or go the digital way) and collaborate with your customer team, product owner and developers to start writing – then scratch few, negotiate, refine some more, scratch again and come up with a user story that is ready for your product backlog.

Disclaimer: The only idea regarding this post is a centralized page for me to reference valuable content on User stories. If you have pointers and suggestions, please feel free to comment.

05/13/2011: Got a GREAT read from Martin Fowler that needs to be added to this list: Conversational Stories. I am so very happy to share that I AM practicing this with my team as a Proxy PO!

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Agile

 

Plight of a volunteer..

Everyday requests pour in to the queue of Scrum Alliance Inc., and Certified Scrum Masters Linked In groups – from across the world.

I have been helping with the group management activity since quite some time and have received help from few more volunteers on the groups.  Even after having 6 to 8 group managers the requests still keep piling up. After a long time of wait and watch, I decided to email the group mgmt team today.  This is the first step towards my journey to settle things after the Scrum Alliance restructuring that kind of left these groups – Orphan (just in the custody of volunteers).

===========================================================================================================================================

Hello everyone,

In last one month – couple of group management team members decided to leave the group. We appreciate their contribution and thank them for their involvement.

To the ones who are still interested to help out, recently there have been lots of requests piling up in both CSM and SA groups. Especially SA group – today I processed around 60 odd requests from both the groups.

Till past month, I did have a little bandwidth to pickup the load but that’s not the case now.

I know this we agreed to be a VOLUNTEER: for a good cause. Let me take a moment to give you all a clearer picture:

1) These groups were started by a (then) Scrum Alliance employee or the Product Owner

2) Group loads increased so they requested volunteers to help. We had 5 volunteers working at a sustained pace and improving on management activities and setting processes

3) Scrum Alliance decided to LET GO of the original Product Owner and asked them to transition the product (i believe including the management of these groups) to a independent company

4) Neither SA, NOR that independent company has acknowledged the existence of these groups, which keep GROWING every minute

5) Few of the original management team members decided they could not continue helping the groups, so I called in for additional volunteers

6) Rest of you heard my call and am glad you have provided your valuable time.

So why the story?

1) I wanted everyone to know the actual history about this part

2) Think about all the ASPIRING members who keep sending their requests to join these groups (from world wide) and are completely ignorant about this situation

(That the groups are actually orphan and Scrum Alliance is NOT really managing the groups – VOLUNTEERS like US are)

3) Remind us all about the commitment we made (few hours a week) to help out with the management activity of this group.

4) After getting you all on the same page, I now would like to bring this issue to light with someone from Scrum Alliance Inc. (the “Owner” of this group has been unresponsive)

5) Because – if SA does not treat these groups as their product, the policies and operation for these need to change.

6) The efforts we put in as volunteers are otherwise going unnoticed

Let us look at the PENDING requests as our BACKLOG, and think of ourselves as an agile team:

  1. If everyone can help pick up a few requests every week, that will help distribute the load for EVERYONE
  2. Will provide a chance for everyone on group management team to be a active participant in discussions on group

I would really appreciate your honest feedback and response on this issue of how can we deal better with managing this backlog?

We can have at the most 10 managers on 1 group. If the management team keeps growing shorter, I will have to opt for re-opening the volunteer call and re-training them.

This is our chance for a retrospective of this team – if you truly believe in agile values, I know you will understand my concern.

I personally appreciate everyone’s involvement and volunteering for this effort and hope to hear from you soon.

Have a great week end.

===================================================================================================================================================================================

As I mentioned, my next step will be getting in touch with one or more people from Scrum Alliance leadership team – regardless of how the current volunteer managers react to my email.


 
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Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Volunteering

 

Agile & Music: Suggestion for an experiment

Instruments

Who doesn’t love music? We all have different choices, tastes – but we all listen and have our favorites. I like listening to variety of music and play guitar (Disclaimer: I am not a music major or a pro).

There’s been this one thing on my mind since a long time and could not resist this post when I saw David Bland’s tweet about “Kanban-Agile Jazz“. [Don’t forget to check out the trackback link at the bottom of that article by Olaf Lewitz].

I have observed one strange coincidence when I met, read about and researched some famous agilists. Many of them play guitar (or a music instrument.

To name a few (on twitter): @mcottmeyer, @howardsublett, @dennisstevens (if I am not wrong), Dave Minor, @darianrashid (drums) and the list goes on..(you get the point).

Most importantly, the experiment that I have in mind is on the lines of what Olaf mentioned in his post:

  1. In next agile (or scrum or kanban or XP) get-together event, invite the attendees WITH their instruments
  2. Ask the attendees at the gathering to form a band by choosing among themselves
  3. Create a tune or select a song of their choice
  4. Practice for a few times and then
  5. Present for few minutes in front of the get-together audience

Yep, you’re thinking right; something like the “YouTube Symphony Orchestra” on a very small-scale.

Why do this?

  1. Fun & Entertainment
  2. Interactive and engaging
  3. Something different/Innovative than just doing “hands-on” sessions, open space, games
  4. Displaying agile principles/values: Collaboration, Self-organizing teams, Improvisation, Iterating, Practicing and Delivering

 

Jazz

As you can see from Olaf’s “White Night..” post few passionate people have used the Jazz experiment to get their point across to the audience about improvisation. After all, people get-together to discuss what they are passionate about (agility) and in that people form  small groups, get engaged in discussing topics of their interest. If people don’t find the topic interesting they use the “law of two feet” from open space in search of discussion that engages them.

So, why not meet with like-minded music (agile) enthusiasts at such events and jam?

Note of caution: Please make sure you don’t get lost in music so much that you forget the main purpose of being at the (agile) event 🙂


 
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Posted by on December 27, 2010 in Agile, Music, Musings

 

Customer engagement – The hard stuff

Dealing with difficult customers

Dealing with difficult customers

Customer involvement in any project is very important. But customers also are humans and you can rest assured that with every new project – the way it is unique, your customer experience WILL be unique; either pleasant or unpleasant. Things can get very challenging, if you meet a customer who is controlling and/or unwilling to commit. Even worse: sways the users/team to “rollback” their decisions.

In recent past, we started to have problems with scope definition with our customer and the initial sessions turned unproductive. So our project management team got together internally to assess the problem and possibly rectify it. It was necessary to identify the “type” of customer and I started looking for some answers/similar experiences. I came across Mike’s post on customer engagement. As Mike suggests, customer engagement will get productive if your customers can be identified by “CRACK” acronym – that stands for:

  • Collaborative
  • Representative
  • Accountable
  • Committed
  • Knowledgeable

In our case, the controlling customer manager was just a R (Representative of the team) but missing everything else. The users were afraid and unwilling to express their needs, decisions and concerns in front of the manager. And we were expected to understand and rectify the business problem. IT team tried few tricks like JAD sessions, One-on-one discussion with the manager to help the individual understand importance of scope finalization and moving ahead. Things went 1 step ahead, but 2 step back.

Direct communication was not successful and we were not in a position to bypass the manager. In this case, the one trick that worked for us was:  Questions/Surveys. We developed a 2 page survey and distributed it to the whole customer team, including the manager to define the scope.

The statistics that came back from the survey helped us show the manager the actual needs and to arrive at the scope for the project.  This experience reminded us that: It is not just your analytical skills and technical expertise that are important. Dealing with difficult individuals and especially customers can test your people skills. You will need to reach deep down in your bag of techniques and experience to handle such situations.

Your patience, collaboration and interaction skills will be tested. Only experience can help you successfully navigate such situations. Connect, talk and try finding the answers with people who have been through such situations.

Because –  Soft stuff (skill) is the  hard stuff.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2010 in Business Analysis, Project Management

 

Tags: ,

PK for everyday?!

I have been on agile projects in past, but did not have a chance to explore Kanban. Earlier this year, following few discussions about kanban, lean at the Scrum Alliance’s – Orlando Scrum Gathering in Florida, USA got my attention.

While researching, reading and learning I came across Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban (PK) blog/site. It really got me interested and I decided to start practicing PK. Visual flow of the work, limiting the work-in-progress and amount of tasks DONE in front of my eyes gave me a boost. I was feeling good while moving tasks on the board from “ToDo” to “WIP to “Done”.

Recently, I came across Derek Huether using “pomodoro technique“. Putting it to use made my PK – productive and effective by helping me focus better to get things done! I must admit this combination has been pretty effective.

All these experiments, excitements and improvements I shared with my wife, Meghana. Today, while cooking she asked me, “Does the pomodoro technique apply to cooking, too?” My answer was: Absolutely, Yes! and why not. Think about the chefs in the restaurants. Do they start cooking from scratch? Nope, they’ve spent some time for preperation already. They have to mange time and create exotic, tasty dishes in minutes! [psst..I am a huge.. i mean HUGE fan of Chef Gordon Ramsey of Hell’s Kitchen].

Few more tweeps I came across on social media using PK for everyday:

What’s your story? Have you used PK or know someone who uses it for day-to-day activities? Share your experience.

Btw: Did you notice the pomodoro timer on Pomodoro Technique site? It’s a tomato! Fits right in with the food/chefs analogy above, doesn’t it?! 😉

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2010 in Personal Kanban

 

Hello “blogging” world!

and so I am here. Blogging. But, Why do you want to blog? as a very famous blogger (and one of my inspirations) asked me. Here’s what I have to say:

  1. As a blogger I want to put forth my ideas, contributions and expertise gained in my professional life so that like-minded, interested professionals can share their views with me.
  2. As a blogger I want to have a place holder for my interests, hobbies and reads so that I can come back to one place for referencing all that information.

Now, for all you agilists – you are wondering about the acceptance criteria for these “user stories”. I will save them for the next post! 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 
 
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