Skip to content

Mike Cohn's Blog - Succeeding With Agile™
Syndicate content
Succeeding With Agile
Updated: 3 hours 53 min ago

Why Getting to Done Is So Important

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 18:00

One of tenets of Scrum is the value of getting work done. At the start of a sprint, the team selects some set of product backlog items and takes on the goal of completing them.

A good Scrum team realizes they are better off finishing 5 product backlog items than being half done with 10.

But why?

Faster Feedback

One reason to emphasize getting work to done is that it shortens feedback cycles. When something is done, users can touch it and see it. And they can provide better feedback.

Teams should still seek feedback as early as possible from users, including while developing the functionality. But feedback is easier to provide, more informed, and more reliable when a bit of functionality is finished rather than half done.

Faster Payback

A second reason to emphasize finishing features is because finished features can be sold; unfinished features cannot.

All projects represent an economic investment--time and money are invested in developing functionality.

An organization cannot begin regaining its investment by delivering partially developed features. A product with 10 half-done features can be thought of as inventory sitting on a warehouse floor. That inventory cannot be sold until each feature is complete.

In contrast, a product with 5 finished features is sellable. It can begin earning money back against the investment.

Progress Is Notoriously Hard to Estimate

A third reason for emphasizing getting features all the way to done is because progress is notoriously hard to estimate.

Suppose you ask a developer how far along he or she is. And the developer says “90% done.”

Great, you think, it’s almost done. A week later you return to speak with the same developer. You are now expecting the feature to be done--100% complete. But the developer again informs you that the feature is 90% done.

How can this be?

It’s because the size of the problem has grown. When you first asked, the developer truly was 90% done with what he or she could see of the problem. A week later the developer could see more of the problem, so the size of the work grew. And the developer is again confident in thinking 90% of the work is done.

This leads to what is known as the 90% syndrome: Software projects are 90% done for 90% of their schedules.

Not Started and Done

In agile, we avoid the 90% syndrome by making sure that at the end of each iteration, all work is either:

  • Not started
  • Done

We’re really good at knowing when we haven’t started something. We’re pretty good at knowing when we’re done with something. We’re horrible anywhere in between.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you experienced problems with teams being 90% done? How have you overcome these problems? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Categories: Blogs

Better User Stories: 24 Hours Until Doors Close

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 18:00

This blog post refers to a four-part series of videos on overcoming challenges with user stories. Topics covered are conducting story-writing workshops with story maps, splitting stories, and achieving the right level of detail in user stories.

To be notified when you the videos are again available, sign up below:

Notify Me!

Just a quick post this week to let you know that we will be closing registration to Better User Stories tomorrow at 6 P.M. Pacific, 9 P.M. Eastern.

We still have spaces for the Expert and Professional Levels, but Work With Mike is now completely sold out.

Click here to register before the deadline

Just a quick reminder of what people are saying about the course:

I could squeeze videos in between meeting packed days

“I loved the acronyms used to test story quality and that the modules were broken up into small enough segments that I could squeeze videos in between meeting packed days… I really enjoyed the worksheets that forced me to use my own backlog as practice to cement the concepts in my brain. It's way too easy to go through an online course and not really retain information that is useful later but that's what made it real for me.” - Sarah Fraser

Immediately able to apply what I learned

“I've used user stories for many years. I wasn't sure if this course was really going to teach me something new… I thought if anyone is going to be able to teach me more about user stories it will be Mike Cohn… The Q&A calls with the training were great. I think this is a big differentiator to other online trainings I've done. I was immediately able to apply what I learned in this course to support teams get their backlog set up as they begin delivering using the scrum framework. - Amber Burke

If you’re on the fence, jump in…

“It has already influenced and changed how I deliver story writing workshops. There is a lot of valuable information. It is split up into logical and digestible segments. For anyone willing to put in the time that needs to understand how to write better stories; you will find value here. If you're on the fence, jump in...you won't regret it.” - Max Lamers

You still have (some) time to access the free mini-course

When we close registration to the full Better User Stories course, we will also be taking down the free video training. If you’ve not yet seen those, you still have time to register and watch them before tomorrow’s deadline.

Click here to access the free mini-course

I don’t know when we’ll be opening doors again to the full, advanced course, so if you and your team want to sharpen your user stories skills, this is a great time to join.

Any last minute questions about the course? Let me know in the comments below.

Categories: Blogs

Doors Now Open to the Better User Stories Advanced Video Training

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 14:05

This blog post refers to a four-part series of videos on overcoming challenges with user stories. Topics covered are conducting story-writing workshops with story maps, splitting stories, and achieving the right level of detail in user stories.

To be notified when you the videos are again available, sign up below:

Notify Me!

This past week we’ve given away free online training and a number of resources to help you combat some of the most vexing problems agile teams encounter when writing user stories.

Now it’s time to open the doors to the full course: Better User Stories.

“In my 30 years of IT experience, this class has without question provided the most ‘bang for buck’ of any previous training course I have ever attended. If you or your organization are struggling with user stories, then this class is absolutely a must have. I simply can’t recommend it enough. 5 Stars!!” - Douglas Tooley

If you watched and enjoyed the free videos, you’ll love Better User Stories. It’s much more in-depth, with 9 modules of advanced training, worksheets, lesson transcripts, audio recordings, bonus materials, and quizzes to help cement the learning.

Registration for Better User Stories will only be open for one week

Click here to read more about the course and reserve your seat.

Because of the intense level of interest in this course, we’re expecting a large numbers of people to sign-up. That’s why we’re only opening the doors for one week, so that we have the time and resources to get everyone settled.

If demand is even higher than we expect, we may close the doors early, so if you already know you’re interested, the next step is to:

Choose one of 3 levels of access. Which is right for you?

I know when it comes to training, everyone has different needs, objectives, learning preferences and budgets.

That’s why you can choose from 3 levels of access when you register:

  • Professional - Get the full course with lifetime access to all materials and any future upgrades
  • Expert Access - Acquire the full course and become part of the Better User Stories online community, where you can discuss ideas, share tips and submit questions to live Q+A calls with Mike
  • Work With Mike - Secure all of the above, plus private, 1:1 time with Mike to work through any specific issues or challenges.

Click here to choose the best level for your situation

What people are already saying

We recently finished a beta launch where a number of agilists worked through all 9 modules, providing feedback along the way. This let us tweak, polish and finish the course to make it even more practical and valuable.

Here’s what people had to say:

Anne Aaroe

Thank you for an amazing course. Better User Stories is by far the best course I have had since I started my agile journey back in 2008.

Anne Aaroe

Packed full of humor, stories, and exercises the course is easy to take at one’s own leisure. Mike Cohn has a way of covering complex topics such as splitting user stories with easy to understand acronyms, charts and reinforces these concepts with quizzes and homework that really bring the learning objectives to life. So, whether you’re practicing scrum or just looking to learn more about user stories this course will provide you the roadmap needed to improve at any experience level, at a cost that everyone can appreciate.

Aaron Corcoran

Click here to read a full description of the course, and what you get with each of the 3 levels of access. Questions about the course?

Let me know in the comments below.

Categories: Blogs

How to Add the Right Amount of Detail to User Stories

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 14:00

This blog post refers to a four-part series of videos on overcoming challenges with user stories. Topics covered are conducting story-writing workshops with story maps, splitting stories, and achieving the right level of detail in user stories.

To be notified when you the videos are again available, sign up below:

Notify Me!

Today’s post introduces the third installment in a free series of training videos all about user stories. Available for a limited time only, you can watch all released videos by signing up to the Better User Stories Mini-Course. Already signed up? Check your inbox for a link to the latest video, or continue reading to find out about today’s lesson.

An extremely common problem with user stories is including the right amount of detail.

If you include too much detail in user stories this makes story writing take longer than it would otherwise. As with so many activities in the business world, we want to guard against spending more time on something than necessary.

Also, spending time adding too much detail leads to slower development as tasks like design, coding, and testing do not start until the details have been added. This delay also means it takes longer for the team and its product owner to get feedback from users and stakeholders.

But adding too little detail can lead to different but equally frustrating problems. Leave out detail and the team may struggle to fully implement a story during a sprint as they instead spend time seeking answers.

With too little detail, there’s also an increased chance the development team will go astray on a story by filling in the gaps with what they think is needed rather than asking for clarification.

There’s danger on both sides.

But, when you discover how much detail to add to your stories, it’s like Goldilocks finding the perfect bowl of porridge. Not too much, not too little, but just right.

But how do you discover how much is the right amount?

You can learn how in a new, 13-minute free video training I’ve just released. It’s part of the Better User Stories Mini-Course. To watch the free video, simply sign up here and you’ll get instant access.

Remember, if you’ve already signed up to the course you don’t need to sign in again, just go to www.betteruserstories.com and video #3 will already be unlocked for you.

Adding the right amount of detail--not too much, not too little--is one of the best ways to improve how your team works with user stories. I’m confident this new video will help.

Mike

P.S. This video is only going to be available for a very short period. I encourage you to watch it now at www.betteruserstories.com.

Categories: Blogs

Five Simple but Powerful Ways to Split User Stories

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 16:00

This blog post refers to a four-part series of videos on overcoming challenges with user stories. Topics covered are conducting story-writing workshops with story maps, splitting stories, and achieving the right level of detail in user stories.

To be notified when you the videos are again available, sign up below:

Notify Me!

Today’s post introduces the second installment in a free series of training videos all about user stories. Available for a limited time only, you can watch all released videos by signing up to the Better User Stories Mini-Course. Already signed up? Check your inbox for a link to the latest video, or continue reading to find out about today’s lesson.

One of the most common struggles faced by agile teams is the need to split user stories. I'm sure you've struggled with this. I certainly did at first.

In fact, when I first began using Scrum, some of our product backlog items were so big that we occasionally opted for six-week sprints. With a bit more experience, though, that team and I saw enough ways to split work that we could have done one-day sprints if we'd wanted.

But splitting stories was hard at first. Really hard.

But I've got some good news for you. Not only have I figured out how to split stories on my own, I've learned how to explain how to do it so that anyone can quickly become an expert.

What I discovered is that almost every story can be split with one of five techniques. Learn those five simple techniques and you're set.

Even better, the five techniques form an easily memorable acronym: SPIDR.

I've just released a new, 20-minute, free video training that describes each of these techniques as part of the Better User Stories Mini-Course. To watch it simply sign up here and you’ll get instant access.

Remember, if you’ve already signed up to the course you don’t need to sign in again, just check your inbox for an email from me with a link to the latest lesson.

Unless you've already cracked the code on splitting stories, you definitely want to learn the five techniques that make up the SPIDR approach by watching this free video training.

Mike

P.S. This video is only going to be available for a very short period. I encourage you to watch it now at https://www.betteruserstories.com.

Categories: Blogs

Time Sensitive: Free Access to The Better User Stories Mini-Course

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 16:00

This blog post refers to a four-part series of videos on overcoming challenges with user stories. Topics covered are conducting story-writing workshops with story maps, splitting stories, and achieving the right level of detail in user stories.

To be notified when you the videos are again available, sign up below:

Notify Me!

Today I want to let you know about a new mini-course I created to help overcome some of the common and challenging problems with user stories.

It’s free to register and you can access the first video instantly, or watch it a little later at your convenience. Once you do sign-up I’ll also send you an email to let you know as soon as the next video is released.

Please note: This training is free but will only be available for the next 2 weeks

Guarantee your spot by signing up for the course today

About The Better User Stories ‘Mini-Course’

Last year I did a survey to discover what challenges were stopping people write successful user stories. Nearly 2,000 people got in touch to highlight the following issues:

  • Not writing stories that truly focus on the user’s needs
  • Wondering how to keep a team engaged from writing to development
  • Splitting stories quickly without compromising value
  • Not knowing when to add detail, or how much to include

Plus many, many more. I wanted to create a mini-course that would tackle some of these issues, and I wanted to offer it to you for free.

Even though there’s no fee to access the videos, the training isn’t light-touch, an introduction, or theory-filled. It’s based on practical materials I’ve used for teaching user stories to more than 20,000 people over the last fifteen years. What’s more, you’ll also have the chance to comment, ask questions and discuss the training featured in each video.

Join in the discussion by watching the first video now

Watch out for even more resources to help you with user stories

To go alongside the launch of the mini-course, over the next couple of weeks, both the blog and weekly tips email will feature lessons and advice on how to write better user stories.

And if you really want you and your team to master this topic, there will be an option to unlock more in-depth, advanced training (details about that coming soon).

Today, get instant access to video 1: Three Tips for Successful Story Mapping in a Story-Writing Workshop

The first video is available now. This 20 minute training looks at some of the common mistakes people make at the early stage of writing user stories, particularly when conducting a story-writing workshop.

In this video you’ll learn:

  • Why people struggle to find the balance between too much, and too little team engagement when writing user stories.
  • How to save a significant amount of time in future iteration planning by inviting the right people to your story-writing workshop
  • A simple, but powerful method of visualizing the relationship between stories
  • Practical ways to make sure your team focuses on the user’s needs at all times
  • Methods to help you prioritize and plan stories, fast

Click here to access the first video

Questions about the training? Already watched the first video? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Categories: Blogs

Cross Functional Doesn’t Mean Everyone Can Do Everything

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 17:00

Perhaps the most prevalent and persistent myth in agile is that a cross-functional team is one on which each person possesses every skill necessary to complete the work.

This is simply not true.

A cross-functional team has members with a variety of skills, but that does not mean each member has all of the skills.

Specialists Are Acceptable on Agile Teams

It is perfectly acceptable to have specialists on an agile team. And I suspect a lot of productivity has been lost by teams pursuing some false holy grail of having each team member able to do everything.

If my team includes the world’s greatest database developer, I want that person doing amazing things with our database. I don’t need the world’s greatest database developer to learn JavaScript.

Specialists Make It Hard to Balance Work

However, specialists can cause problems on any team using an iterative and incremental approach such as agile. Specialists make it hard to balance the types of work done by a team. If your team does have the world’s greatest database developer, how do you ensure your team always brings into an iteration the right amount of work for that person without bringing in too much for the programmers, the testers, or others?

To better see the impact of specialists, let’s look at a few examples. In Figure 1, we see a four-person team where each person is a specialist. Persons 1 and 2 are programmers and can only program. This is indicated by the red squares and the coding prompt icon within them. Persons 3 and 4 are testers who do nothing but test. They are indicated by the green square and the pencil and ruler icons within those. You can imagine any skills you’d like, but for these examples I’ll use programmers (red) and testers (green).

The four-person team in Figure 1 is capable of completing four red tasks in an iteration and four green tasks in an iteration. They cannot do five red tasks or five green tasks.

But if their work is distributed across two product backlog items as shown in Figure 2, this team will be able to finish that work in an iteration.

But, any allocation of work that is not evenly split between blue and green work will be impossible for this team to complete. This means the specialist team of Figure 1 could not complete the work in any of the allocations shown in Figure 3.

The Impact of Multi-Skilled Team Members

Next, let’s consider how the situation is changed if two of the specialist team members of Figure 1 are now each able to do both red and green work. I refer to such team members as multi-skilled individuals. Such team members are sometimes called generalists, but I find that misleading. We don’t need someone to be able to do everything. It is often enough to have a team member or two who has a couple of the skills a team needs rather than all of the skills.

Figure 4 shows this team. Persons 1 and 2 remain specialists, only able to do one type of work each. But now, Persons 3 and 4 are multi-skilled and each can do either red or green work.

This team can complete many more allocations of work than could the specialist team of Figure 1. Figure 5 shows all the possible allocations that become possible when two multi-skilled members are added to the team.

By replacing just a couple of specialists with multi-skilled members, the team is able to complete any allocation of work except work that would require 0 or 1 unit of either skill. In most cases, a team can avoid planning an iteration that is so heavily skewed simply through careful selection of the product backlog items to be worked on. In this example, if the first product backlog item selected was heavily green, the team would not select a second item that was also heavily green.

The Role of Specialists on an Agile Team

From this, we can see that specialists can exist on high-performing agile teams. But, it is the multi-skilled team members who allow that to be possible. There is nothing wrong with having a very talented specialist on a team--and there are actually many good reasons to value such experts.

But a good agile team will also include multi-skilled individuals. These individuals can smooth out the workload when a team needs to do more or less of a particular type of work in an iteration. Such individuals may also benefit a team in bringing more balanced perspectives to design discussions.

Evidence from My Local Grocery Store

As evidence that specialists are acceptable as long as they are balanced by multi-skilled team members, consider your local grocery store. A typical store will have cashiers who scan items and accept payment. The store will also have people who bag the groceries for you. If the bagger gets behind, the cashier shifts and helps bag items. The multi-skilled cashier/bagger allows the store to use fewer specialist baggers per shift.

What Role Do Specialists Play on Your Team?

What role do specialists play on your team? What techniques do you use to allow specialists to specialize? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Categories: Blogs