Thursday, August 27, 2009

User stories - Do they need a format ?


Every person whom I meet teaches me how much I don’t know about some subject. Either its about the world, history, culture, religion, different industries… whatever it is…This happens to me all the time when travelling. I have some luck to have good company most the time while travelling or in transit. Those strangers ended up being my “friends” frequently.

This time when I was travelling from Frankfurt to Doha, Some stranger fell in to conversation with me after seen my notebook bag ( I think I have mentioned about this notebook bag before in this blog J ) He assumed that I work for an IT company and he is an Agile management consultant based in Denmark and travelling to Doha for some assignment. You can imagine now.. a conversation in a long flight extended by 1 hour delay J

It was very interesting to know about various experiences we both had with Scrum and he was quite used to many other agile methods which I have never been exposed to before. However we both agreed that Scrum is the most popular Agile (According to him.. “The well marketed and money making Agile”) right now.

Talking about various experiences I asked his experience about user stories. This was some challenging area in Scrum projects. Getting the user stories right…

I always believed its better to have the standard for user stories “ As a “, “I need to “ “So that I can”.. In this way the requirements become much clearer to everyone and we may not miss the users what their expectations etc.. But he disagreed. I was surprised, but he had a valid argument on this. Example: As a Job applicant I want to post my CV to the job portal so that the prospective employers can view my CV in PDF format”

His argument was that its always difficult to stick with real users in user stories. As an example; you want to have date widgets in an application, so that do you write “as a designer I want to use the list of widgets so that “…….. ??? Where is the real user in this user story? ? I couldn’t agree less. Because I just completed a project initiation where there were many many user stories which I couldn’t think of mapping to my standard template originally but I had to do it by force with tweaking them by using developers, designers , architects as types of users which may not be the best case.. He also had the same experience .. One of his initial product backlogs 80% of the time it has been “ As a product owner “ which doesn’t make any sense…J

But then.. Million dollar question.. Why Mike Cohn standardized that user stories in a standard way? Didn’t he see this problem? I don’t think so .. Need much more thinking and reading on this.. may be some times not using standards would be better than using standards if they are not meaningful.. I will definitely do a follow-up post on this..

Anyway bottom line out of scrum is that speak to anyone who try to make a conversation with you…never know what they will come up with J

Yeah Im not a person who can live with open ended questions.. So Im chasing answers:

28th June..

Follow up today : I purchased the book from Amazon "User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development " by Mike Cohn

29th June

I found this article :

Missing Dimention of user stories : Interesting thoughts:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Another Scrum project initiation

Very interesting project to work with some cool robots :-) and nice people. and more than anything the office is located in a beautiful area..I love this trees houses, plants, flowers..and seen 2 apple trees today while walking to find the train station . its a picture book enviorenment outside :-) and I love them all... Ok..I had a good start today. The customer is located in Norway. Working with other nationalities for some challenging tasks specially working in the project initiation stage where you need to understand the project context and stakeholders clearly and come up with the best customized model for the right context and drive everyone towards it.. That fascinates me all the time. This time it was not that hard as Ive experienced with some projects before.. Most the facts were straight.. When I listened to all the discussions going around I spotted some mostly used keywords by the people;
- Working with Verticals
- Collaborative team- Prioritization- Incremental product deliveries- fear for the risks with offshore model- Difficulties of limiting the scope or defining at once- The visibility of the value out of work.
Further I observed there seems high degree of commitment and enthusiasm by the customer team for the project. So now that its clear I wouldn’t go for any waterfall project initiation in this context. You can see that very clearly. We agreed on Agile (ok - scrum) due to many reasons.
Working with Offshore model is never like working with collocated teams. Offshore itself is very challenging when it comes to Software projects. The biggest problem you experience in offshore model is that isolation after initial study at customer location which leads to most the project failures. The old saying “Out of sight is out of mind” is proven again and again in most the offshore projects. Therefore it’s a key factor that we need to use a work model which doesn’t give that chance of getting isolated though you are in a different geographical location. Scrum facilitates that.
IBM scrum community guide for scrum in distributed team context gives lots of insights about distributed teams using scrum even with teams where there is no overlapping time zones. But I don’t think that’s a good idea anyway unless one team is willing to scarifies their off time – It’s a different discussion anyway.. Point here is that you can see many distributed teams around the world moving towards agile due to this “Out of sight” risk factor.
Ok coming back to my project, the team model, either its going to be 2 scrum teams in 2 locations and working for verticals and then doing scrum of scrums or whether both country resources working in one team with one scrum master and product owner. Both the options its important that you share one product backlog and commit to stories instead having 2 product backlogs.
I have chosen the 2nd option by keeping provision to go for the 1st option when the teams start to grow. We can scale up the model when there were more team members are added to the teams.
Identifying the product owner and the scrum master is another important thing as you identify the Project manager in waterfall project initiation. I always agree with scrum experts that Product owner is the most difficult role to be played in a scrum team.
Product owner is a person who needs a mix of skills, he needs to have a good business vision, Project skills and he is the person who has the final “say” of the product in a scrum team by coordinating with many other stakeholders. Compared with traditional work we did before this is like Scrum team is transferring the risks of requirements outside the team to the Product owner (Yes its Risk transferring up to an extend I should say )
In this project I managed to spot a Product owner after our initial discussions and thank god he agreed to play the role. ! Im so happy about that because I saw that clear idea about what they need is mostly lies with him. So his main tasks would be now to create themes, assigned values with other stakeholders, prioritize them.. After that we will be discussing about his release plan and then set the product backlog accordingly.
Identifying scrum master – in this team model should he be in Norway or in SrI Lanka. Looking at the current context we decided that the scrum master should come from Norway team. Which is a good decision for the model 2 right now. Further he has experience using scrum so it will be a good choice. I have 4 more days to go.. Not full days.. its challenging to do the rest of the tasks left to complete during rest of the days.. I need to structure my time well to prioritize on what I have to do. Stakeholder reporting and training team on scrum values and disciplines is another vital task requested to do at the initiation. Need to look at the risk analysis too. So I have few busy but “my kind of work” ahead :-)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Will Scrum scare away the PM .. I say BIG NO

Recent past this has been a very painful discussion in many organizations moving towards Agile.. What are we to do with our PM? Is he/she going to be a Product Owner, Scrum Master or will work as the developers of the team with his skills of development , testing etc. ? All that is fine.. But don’t forget about the Planning, Leadership, Risk Management and Project knowledge what your PM has gained over the years which is really helpful even in a scrum team for a medium to large scale projects. I understand there is no logic in converting PM to Scrum Master unless he understands and capable of playing this “servant based leadership” (they call it ) role.
Look at the following Scenario what we need to do when following a scrum project from top to bottom,

Product Vision -Themes -Values -Roadmap -Release plan -User stories -Product backlog - Sprint Backlog - Daily Scrum

Most the early stage work is the main responsibility of the product owner, however when you look at making release plans based on business values, budgets, stakeholder requirements, PO needs lots of support from the team as well as support from an experienced project manager would be invaluable. PM comes with lots of experience in foreseen risks, keeping team together with good spirit, protecting team from outside disturbances, being visionary about the project and specially some instincts about team skills J , So in that case I think a PM skills can be used in many ways as a very important role for scrum teams specially if there are many scrum teams involved in a project. One way to position him is to be outside of the team, acting a coaching role to help the PO in various scenarios throughout the project. But if the PM can be converted to a good scrum master who will serve this "Servant based leadership" the value he or she can provide is really good when compare with a techie who has no much experience of looking at the project perspectives becoming a scrum master.. I think its all about a mentality change which needs to play this new role by using your valuable skills. There are quite lot of opportunities for a skilled PM in agile environment either outside the team as a coach to work with PO or inside the team as a Scrum master.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WOW !!! is Scrum Alliance is all about money ???

I was thinking of upgrading my Scrum master status to Scrum Practitioner and I did the case study which was provided to gain the status., Following is the email I receieved from Scrum alliance today after inspecting the case study...

Hi Thushara,Congratulations! Your application has been approved. The next step is to submit payment of $250 to complete the process. You can do so by clicking on the link below.

Once you've submitted payment your profile should be updated within one week. Your SA profile will show your new CSP certification status and your certification will be effective for a duration of 2 years. If you have any questions regarding your profile, please direct them to

Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Warm Regards,

Scrum Alliance Certification Administrator

I think when you think "Agile " this fee is way out :-)
And further if you are interested to get CST , in SL money you got to pay Rs 80K + and again this CSP validity is only for 2 years. Im thinking whether its worth to upgrade to CSP or not now. Becuase I have to maintain many professional titles from various professional bodies and the anual charges to maintain them is already too much.. :-) and I rarely use the titles.. unless the rule says its a must :-)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Individual Appraisals in an Agile Team

Thanks to my Project Managers.. They asked me this question lately when I was talking about scrum for upcoming projects.. How do we conduct the annual appraisals of the individual team members when practicing Agile?.. Specially Scrum. Because I have been chanting the mantra all the time ....."Scrum is all about team and not about individuals. :-)....
We could think of many ways , But I wanted to get to know about how other industry experts who practice Scrum do this. I asked few people , Mostly they all had the same answer , “if you win as a team you win. If you fail as a team you fail. What’s the purpose of the appraisal if your product is not delivered” But the problem is that almost all of them are in to different work culture and I find its difficult to practice the same principles they practice when it comes to SL context. At least till we get in there.

I found some very good sources here for individual appraisals in Agile environment. Hope this will help you to build a appraisal system for your Agile team members.

The Scrum Team


The Scrum Team

Scrum teams do not include any of the traditional software engineering roles such as programmer, designer, tester, or architect. Everyone on the project works together to complete the set of work they have collectively committed to complete within a sprint. Scrum teams develop a deep form of camaraderie and a feeling that "we're all in this together."

A typical Scrum team is 6-10 people but Jeff Sutherland has scaled Scrum up to over 500 people and I have used it with over 150.

- Mountain Goat software


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