Forget the walking skeleton – put it on crutches

TL;DR version: Modern technology and delivery approaches, in particular the push towards continuous delivery, enable us take the walking skeleton technique much further. By building up the UI first and delivering the back-end using continuous delivery, without interrupting or surprising users, we can cut the time to initial value delivery and validation by an order of magnitude! Continue reading

Focus on key examples

It can be tempting to add a ton of scenarios and test cases to acceptance criteria for a story, and look at all possible variations for the sake of completeness. Teams who automate most of their acceptance testing frequently end up doing that. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, this is a sure way to destroy a good user story. Continue reading

Throw user stories away after they are delivered

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book 50 Quick Ideas to Improve your User Stories. If you want to try this idea in practice, I’ll be running a workshop on improving user stories at the Product Owner Survival Camp

Many teams get stuck by using previous stories as documentation. They assign test cases, design diagrams or specifications to stories in digital task tracking tools. Such tasks become a reference for future regression testing plans or impact analysis. The problem with this approach is that it is unsustainable for even moderately complex products.

A user story will often change several functional aspects of a software system, and the same functionality will be impacted by many stories over a longer period of time. One story might put some feature in, another story might modify it later or take it out completely. In order to understand the current situation, someone has to discover all relevant stories, put them in reverse chronological order, find out about any potential conflicts and changes, and then come up with a complete picture.

Designs, specifications and tests explain how a system works currently – not how it changes over time. Using previous stories as a reference is similar to looking at a history of credit card purchases instead of the current balance to find out how much money is available. It is an error-prone, time consuming and labour intensive way of getting important information. Continue reading

Kanban in Action – book review

This wonderful little book is a gentle introduction to Kanban by Marcus Hammarberg and Joakim Sunden. It explains the theory behind flow-based processes and provides a ton of practical implementation tips on everything from visualising work to how to properly take out a sticky note.

The first part deals with the basic principles of Kanban, using visual boards to show and manage work in progress, managing queues and bottlenecks and distributing and limiting work across team members. The second part explains how to manage continuous process improvement, how to deal with estimation and planning and how to define and implement different classes of service.

My impression is that this book will be most useful to people completely new to Kanban, who are investigating the concepts or starting to adopt this process. If you already use Kanban, you might find the chapters on managing bottlenecks and process metrics interesting.

Compared to David Anderson’s book, Kanban in Action is more approachable for beginners. Each important concept is described with lots of small, concrete examples, which will help readers new to Kanban put things into perspective, but also reinforce the message that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Anderson’s book goes in more depth to explain the theory behind the practice, and this book has more practical information and concrete advice on topics such as setting work in progress limits, managing different types of items on a visualisation board and choosing workflow metrics. If you’re researching this topic or starting to implement Kanban, it’s worth reading both books.