Tag: #IIBA

Techniques: User Stories

Techniques: User Stories

In this post, we will talk about one of the standard features of many Agile frameworks, the User Story.

User stories are a simple tool to breakdown components and features into small chunks that are understandable, estimable and convey the customer’s requirements to delivery.

Elements

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.21

Commonly, user stories are represented by a card, with a title representing the activity to be delivered.  This could be a physical card or electronic in some requirements management system such as Version1, Jira, TFS or others.

The format of the User Story identifies who needs this, what is needed and why.

They are a tool for elicitation in that the card does not identify everything there is to know, so this helps engage collaboration among the team. The idea is to describe the desired result, not how it is achieved.

There is acceptance criteria defined for the work produced for each card.  This criteria will have been approved by a representative of the stakeholder or a product owner, and is used to measure results to confirm the work.

User stories are used in conjunction with other techniques we have already discussed, such as those shown above under “User Story Management.” So that shows how central this technique is to agile frameworks.

INVEST Criteria for User Story Readiness

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.21

I won’t go into how to write a User Story.  For a discussion on that, there are numerous books.  I’d recommend User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn.  But the Extension does give some guidelines on when a story is ready to be worked.

First, it should Independent or stand alone.  Primarily this goes back to delivering a product that works, and doesn’t need something else.  But I would add there’s a quality of uniqueness to this.  We’re not duplicating work.

Next, it is Negotiable.  The team can determine which is the best way to deliver it.  In other words, the requirement can’t say “Use this product”  We are not designing the product.  We are presenting the requirements, not determining how the requirements are met.  The team does that.

Next is Value.  In week 3 on Value Stream Maps, we talked about how some things do not add value to a process but are necessary.  Sometimes those are regulatory requirements.  Sometimes they are things like a cooling off period.  Although it might not drive profits, there is value in abiding to the regulations.  So, sometimes value needs to be expanded.

Can the team Estimate this.  Do they have enough experience for a frame of reference for their estimation?

Is it Sized Appropriately so that the the team complete this in a cycle.  If not, perhaps it should be broken down more.

Finally, the story should be Testable. There should be enough information to verify that the delivered product works.

Description

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.21

Some things to remember about User Stories. These are intended to be the voice of the customer, so the intended results should be easily understood by the customer.

User Stories are one of several varieties of Product Backlog Items, though the others are not as commonly used.

Be sure to review the stories with the customer or their representative to gain approval before beginning work.

Also, remember this is a collaboration tool to ensure that

Usage Considerations

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.21

The considerations for User Stories are that they are small, implementable and testable pieces of work.  They are useful in gathering feedback both prior to delivery as well as during demos.

However, they don’t have all the answers, and if you’re not careful, can inflate the backlog.

Also, they tend to be oriented toward what and sometimes misses the why of an item.

Techniques: Real Options

Techniques: Real Options

Real Options focuses decision makers attention on the items that need to be decided now, at the last responsible moment.  By focusing on the appropriate time for making a decision, items which are not needed can be delayed making the decision process much simpler.

Think of it this way, to be agile, we need to have flexibility.  However, the criticism is that with flexibility comes chaos. How can we bring in the latest information and use it for decisions in an orderly way – without disrupting everything we’ve been planning? We need a way to make a decision based on a logical framework, and Real Options is one of the techniques that has been developed to do just that.

It starts with the question, “What is the latest point at which a decision can be made?”  Anything before that means we may have missed important late breaking information.  Anything after that, and the decision is made for us.

In other words, there is a valid reason for Procrastination.

Elements

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.12

It’s a little different from how we normally think about problems and decisions.

First, An option is only an option if it can expire.  Otherwise there’s never a reason to decide.  So by definition, options have a point where they can expire.  That can be a point in time, or an event that triggers a decision point.  So long as it can expire.

Next, if this option is taken, one or more other options are excluded.  This is a choice of one out of more than one, with one choice winning.  If a competing option is still available after the choice, then it was not paired with the right option.  In other words, it wasn’t understood correctly.

If there’s a “cannot” phrase associated with the option, then it isn’t an option either.  Options are only options if they can be put in place.  If there’s a reason it cannot, then it isn’t an option.

That sounds intuitively true when you think about it.  But we don’t usually think about it that rigorously.

In addition, options must exist within organizational commitments, such as standard tools, acceptance criteria and delivery.

As mentioned, they must have a means or time when they expire, after which the choice is made for you instead of by you.

The earliest option defines the end date for the collection of information in order to maximize the ability to make a decision.

Description

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.12

There are 3 statements that are important to remember, highlighted in the Process section here.

  • Options have value
  • Options Expire
  • Never commit early unless you know why And this belongs to the Product Management or Refinement context, directed toward the Internal Team.

Usage Considerations

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.12

As we stated at the beginning, Real Options simplifies decision making by allowing the decision-maker to focus on decisions that are needed now, instead of the entire project upfront.  This removes complexity and allows decisions to be prioritized based on events, time, or other constraints.

But it isn’t the most intuitive way to think about decisions, which means – though it simplifies the decision itself, the process supporting this technique is not so simple.

Techniques: Visioning

Techniques: Visioning

Visioning is used to determine the desired outcome for an initiative worded in a concise and approachable manner.

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.24

When Patriots coach Bill Belichek meets with his team to begin practices, I would imagine that the first thing he says is something like “Our goal for this season is to win the Super Bowl.”

Everything else the team does is derived from that goal.  The team may not fully know how they are going to do that.  And certainly the other teams want to prevent them.  But everyone on the team knows that when Coach says “We’re going to win the Super Bowl” he knows they can succeed. And they understand what winning means.

Elements of Visioning

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.24

But there’s more to Visioning than simple inspiration.  Yes, it is a set of beliefs.  But it also is a SHARED set of beliefs.  Everyone gets there or no one does. That is called a Vision Statement

This shared set of beliefs comes out of facilitated vision exercises – or Vision Exercises. Finally it is expressed in detailed objectives to measure the goals – known as Impact Metrics.  These metrics show that the plan is working, but are not necessarily cause and effect related.

Back to Football, Coach may set goals for player’s strength, speed and skill.  Will those cause them to win?  No. Will they help? Yes. That’s the difference between correlation and causation.

Visioning Description

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.24

Visioning begins in the Strategy Horizon, where the organization determines which initiatives align to organizational goals. The vision for an initiative is set just before the beginning of the project and lasts through it’s duration.

The Vision Statement helps orient all those involved in the project toward the overall goal both of the initiative and the organization. It identifies how the resulting product will leave an identifiable mark on the products or services provided or on the organization as a whole.

One additional consideration is that Visioning may be associated with multiple related initiatives.

Finally the context is communication, and the audience is internal teams and external stakeholders.

Letting Go

Letting Go

During the last week, it seems that everywhere I go, I am running into a constant theme. People around me are letting go. And letting go is one of the most challenging things we do as humans.

My family is in the process of decluttering over a decade’s worth of stuff, and I see first hand how some of these items evoke strong emotions. Take the exersaucer, for example, that was used by my daughter, who is now 5ft 9in. As wonderful as that time in our lives was, we can never return to it. The stations on each side are housed in a white plastic casing that now has changed colors to a light tan.

I jokingly asked Lily if she wanted to give it one last turn. Of course, I got the response, “Dad, that sounds pretty shady to me.” That is her way of saying, stop with the Dad jokes.

It’s not just my household, though. My Mother has the loss of her furry companion; a Yorkie named King who passed at the age of 84 in dog years, 12 in actual years.

And there have been others I’ve helped within the last week, too.

I’ve learned that the challenge of letting go involves some level of the grieving process. It doesn’t matter if the letting go is from a tragic loss, or just from the passage of time and how life causes transitions, grief is often involved, though we may downplay its significance.

Life’s Transitions

So how do we make the transition?

If that question is asked too soon, it can be jarring. The stages of grief should not be circumvented for significant life events. And each stage likes to return to visit us often.

So, I will ask the question again, with that as a caveat. Knowing that change often invokes grief, how do we make the transition?

First, we need to see if we are ready to make the transition. If we are not ready for the transition, we will never accept it. And acceptance is vital because we often need to take action over and over again for a change to take hold.

In my decluttering example, it isn’t just the exersaucer that we need to let go. It’s clothing, bedding, toys, artwork, crafts, and a thousand other items. And it’s not just things involving my daughter.

For me, it’s books. Many of which I intended to read but never did. And now that season of my life when I should have read them is past. They are no longer relevant or timely. As I’ve gone through boxes of stuff that have not been opened since our last move 7 years ago, it is surprising how many books I have that I don’t even recognize, and many must have been from before we married. A good portion of which are of the self-help variety – so much that one visitor looked at my shelves and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

My reply, “You mean you can’t tell?” Followed by a psychotic laugh, just to see the effect.

One of the books I found was “Who Moved My Cheese,” which is a book that is about … you guessed it … Letting Go. Can you guess what I did with that book?

Yep, it’s been donated.

For my wife, it’s things she remembers from shopping experiences with our daughter. Every so often, I hear the exclamation, “Lily! You’ll never guess what I found. Do you remember…?” Then she tells a story about something she hasn’t seen in years, and suddenly we must keep it.

This makes little sense to my logical mind. But I conclude that Marie Kondo doesn’t work when everything “Sparks Joy.” That and the books explains our storage unit.

Still, no matter what the circumstances, letting go is a necessity. Our ability to let go is directly related to our ability to excel in life. Why? Because letting go of the past is necessary for us to envision a future.

And for myself, letting go involves more than just clutter. Every so often, it is important to take a risk, to change course. And this pandemic seems like the natural time to do that.

The Point

As Business Analysts, we often speak of techniques and skill-sets involved to identify process gaps, requirements management, and the like. There is another part of the job that requires empathy, and empathy is a core part of leadership.

Whether it is letting go of the clutter in our lives, painful events, or letting go of what we have done to move toward a better future, letting go is difficult.

As a business analyst, one of my roles is as an “agent of change.” That means some people love seeing me come because they know things will get better. But others are not ready for change. They don’t see the vision or don’t like the vision they see. For these situations, often reminding of the drawbacks of staying put can help soften the resistance.

But no matter where someone is on willingness to let go, it can always be said that letting go is a necessity for moving ahead. And my job is not just to gather requirements on a product vision; it is to create as smooth a transition as possible. The emotional intelligence of handling change is a huge part of getting a project done.

My job is to help them

It may mean that the vision gets adjusted to embrace the concerns of a group that was overlooked. Great – I’ll pass these changes along and get approval.

It may mean that I need to help people see a vision other than what they know. That’s great too. I can help lower the level of fear involved with change by highlighting the benefits, not only to the organization but to the individuals affected.

What do I do to help? The main thing is to listen. Once the problem is voiced, the fear of it lessens.

I’m very thankful for this past week because it reminds me again just how important it is to help people move toward what is next.

And the real reason I have all those self-help books that I mentioned earlier is because in reality they are more useful professionally than many people realize.

We Are Neo

We Are Neo

Recently I was talking with someone who is transitioning into Business Analysis. One of the things we talked about is “What other job do you know where you get paid to learn from experts.” Our endless curiosity is met by an endless supply of industries, sectors, changing demands, new technologies, and on and on.

There is another side to that. With that endless curiosity comes an endless demand for applying what we learn – and sometimes for what we have not yet learned. Even for seasoned Business Analyst, there are tools and techniques that we’ve heard of but have not personally used.

And that creates a situation where…

We Are Neo

Who told Neo he could stop bullets?
Who told Neo he could stop bullets?

For example, let’s say a client needs to start embracing Agile but is struggling with a history of deciding everything before the project starts. As an Analyst, you may have worked on many Agile projects, and it’s second nature to you that some questions are not ready to be answered yet.

You do some research in the Agile Extension to the Babok Guide and discover a technique called “Real Options.” But you’ve not used this technique yourself.

What do you do?

You sit in the chair had have one of your Ebenezzer crew-mates plug you in to the “Real Options” program. A few minutes later, you know the pros, cons and concepts associated with using this technique.

Actually, that often is not as far off as it sounds. Oh, we don’t have a portal to plug into the Matrix. But we do have tons of articles, books, blogs and videos we can search.

The Choice Between Two Mindsets.

There’s a couple of ways you can look at what I just described. The first way is through the lens of “Imposter.” How can I claim to be something I’m not? They will see right through me.

The other way is through the lens of “Owner.” If I don’t do this, no one else can or will. Let’s try this and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we’re no worse off than we are now. And this stretches my wings as a leader for our organization.

To move forward we have a mindset that it doesn’t matter if I know it already or not. It’s my job to find the answers, not to have them already. So let’s go.

Consider this famous quote from Richard Branson:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!

— Richard Branson

There is a difference between this quote and what I’m describing. It isn’t always just presented to us. As Business Analysts, it is often presented BY us.