Search

How To Work With Agile User Stories?

In the software industry, the word “user story” is very commonly used. Not a single day goes by when we don’t come across this word during our daily scrum meetings or sprint retrospectives discussions. Our leads and development managers talk about user stories incessantly.  Even when software feature owners or product managers speak to their development or test team or their end customers, their entire focus of conversation is centered around the word, user stories. The word user stories and use cases have existed in the software engineering psyche for almost 30+ years but they found their resurgence especially when the AGILE methodologies, Concepts and Sprints became the bread and butter of entire software industry. In this article on user stories, I would like to bust some myths surrounding this concept and answer the questions that commonly plague even the most experience people of this industry. How am I qualified to write on this topic? While you are welcome to read about my profile in brief at the end of this article; to summarize, I have worked with top companies like Microsoft etc. in the product engineering domain conceptualizing, implementing and supporting multiple products that have been huge success [for example: Windows operating system] and some, not so successful attempts. While it is not easy to credit the success or failure of such software products to just one concept of adequate user stories or lack of them, but they did play an important role in the final outcome of the project. Hence, I am basing this article on my experience with user stories. Let’s Start As official definitions across web, user story is an informal story that depicts how a user will move from one aspect of software product to another. And use cases are defined as informal list of actions and events that will happen once a user starts interacting with the product. But we all know that these are textbook definitions. Yet we all falter at one or the other time while trying to explain these two concepts to someone in our team or during an interview. Isn’t it? Let us try to understand the differences between these two terms and it will become easy once we all grasp the point of why these two concepts were introduced in the software engineering parlance. Why user stories and Use Cases as concepts came into being? As software products grew in scope and complexity, requirement management started becoming a nightmare for all product managers. It became increasingly common to ship products that did not cover 100% of requirements either due to missed requirements while documentation, or due to the fact that not all requirements were understood completely by development team. This problem became prominent when software started being shipped as service and competition became fierce.  Nowadays, if your software does not satisfy user requirements properly, then it is just a matter of time when a better app will take over your market share as we have seen in multiple cases in recent times. This is the reason why products like Google search engine perform so well. Because they somehow understand what a user is looking for while searching and that shows up in its popularity. As this reality dawned, product managers started thinking of ways to make sure customer requirements did not go missing or were implemented exactly as user would have liked to. Things like traceability matrix etc. helped to some extent but did not solve the problem completely. That’s when the concept of user stories and use cases started proving themselves. Someone, or may be a group of intelligent smart people thought, why not capture the requirements, at least the first cut after talking to the customer in the same way as they would have performed the action if they were working with the software as a first person. Boom! That’s how the concept of documenting the requirements as user stories came into being. Hence, in simple terms, user story is a short story of a fictitious character, but with a valid role and responsibility using the software or a feature of it and getting the desired results from it. And use cases are nothing but series of actions that the fictitious character performed with respect to the software or a feature of it with the documented desired output. Hence, it can be summarized that user stories depict the way the end user is going to use the system and use cases are short actions with desired outputs, that when collated become a user story. This means, it is possible to derive use cases from user stories. Every good user story should contain following elements: Actor(s): Every user story should contain few actors in it with specific roles and responsibilities. Actors generally correspond to the users who are going to use the system. Role: Every actor of a user story has a role associated with it. The role refers to the position, responsibility of that actor within that scene. It also lists down the privileges that the actor has or does not have. Scenario: Every user story depicts one scenario where we briefly explain the scene setting of where the user(s) is or are, what they are supposed to do and the intended outcome or direction assigned to them. Storyline: This is actually the user story where we depict, how a particular actor was assigned a task and how they are going to proceed with it. It includes the interactions that they will do through the software or the functionality of the software and what desired outcome they got. User Satisfaction Criteria: The final section of user story contains a brief mention of why user and his stakeholders will be happy upon successful implementation of this user story. I will give you one sample of a good user story and a bad user story. First of all, let us understand how a bad user story looks like. Sample for bad user story: Raj has opened the software and he used the report generation feature of the tool to generate the report. The report looks good and satisfies the purpose of his report generation. He sends this report to his manager and completes the task. Why this is a bad user story? This will look like a decent user story as it covers what the user wants to do; but in reality, this is a classic case of bad user story because it leaves lot of margin for error and misinterpretation by the developer during code implementation. How? 1.) Who is Raj? What privilege does he have? What access does he have to the system?   a. These points are not clarified. Hence, the developer can interpret in his/her own way leading to wrong feature development and customer dissatisfaction or Production bugs b. In this case, it will lead to security issues in the product itself. 2.) It does not specify as to how one should use report generation feature and where to find it on the screen. Moreover, there is no accompanying UX or sample screens for developer to know where to place this feature on the screen. 3.) It does not specify how the report looks like and which format it is in. Is it an excel based report or HTML report? If these things are not clear, it might leave a lot of margin for error for the developer during development phase. There are many more other problems with the above user story.  Now let us check a sample for good user story. Sample for good user story: Raj, is a system admin in the XYZ company. He has the admin access to the report generation server and is the only person to have this access. He gets an email request from his manager for report generation in excel format for the period between 1st Jan to 31st March and is supposed to generate this report in 15 minutes and send it to him. Raj opens the software and clicks on the “report generation” tab on the top header of the screen [as shown in the sample UI] and chooses the required fields such as time period for the report, format of the report and clicks on generate. The report is generated in 1 minute and is available for download and save or directly open. Raj saves it on his desktop and opens it. Verifies the report in his MS Office 2016 suite and emails it to his manager. He was able to complete this task in less than 15 minutes and hence, he and his manager both are happy with this report generation feature of this software. Why is this a good user story? It clearly explains Raj’s role in the system and mentions the privileges that he should have for this activity. It also clarifies who else has this privilege. In this case, no one apart from Raj has this access. User story is clear in the performance aspect of the feature of this software in terms of time constraints. It also shows the sample screen where developer will know how the button should look like, where it should be placed on screen etc. The user story is clear on what all fields are to be filled in by Raj before generating the report The options that should be presented to the user after report generation are also mentioned explicitly in the user story And most important of all, the user story clearly explains why the user and his stakeholder, Raj and his manager in this case, are happy by the usage of this feature. That is known as user satisfaction criteria. What additional information should be provided along with user story? A functional specification document is the one that acts like a holy guide to the development lead and his team for generation of completely flawless development specification document. However, providing following information along with user story does add credit to your user stories in addition to the ones mentioned above. We will take the same report generation example. 1.) List down all possible formats of the report that should be supported by this feature a. Each format will become a separate use case within above described user story. 2.) List down the range of actions supported by the feature of that software. That will be a separate user story. a. And each range will become a unique use case within that user story. 3.)    Provide all the UX assets i.e. samples for UI to be used by the developer. a.This ensures consistency of the UI This leads to another set of questions: 1.) How to know which aspects of the feature should become a separate user story  2.) How to know which aspects of a user story should become a use case within a particular user story. Let us discuss the first question here. I will cover second question in my future post about use cases. How to know which aspect of a functionality should be a separate user story or not? The golden principle that I generally follow to determine this is:  All the actions related to one aspect of the feature [for example: report generation in prescribed format] will be one user story Working with that same example of report generation feature, if we assume that the report generation feature should have following aspects/benefits as desired by our end customers: 1.) The report generation will take less than 15 minutes 2.) The report can be generated for multiple time periods and are customizable by the user 3.) The feature will support 5 different report format types such as excel, word, HTML, notepad, CSV 4.) Only authorized person will be able to generate the report Then I will make 4 user stories out of these. 1.) User story 1: This will tell the story of how the user [Raj I this case, will use this feature to generate report in different formats as per requirement 2.) User Story 2: Here I will showcase, how user should have access to system before using this feature and what happens if the user does not have access. 3.) User story 3: I will focus on the timing aspects of the feature here. 4.) User story 4: I will work with different supported time ranges and what will happen in different combinations including the boundary cases. 5.) User story 5: Here I will focus on how the user will interact with other controls of this feature such as cancel button etc. And finally, out of these 5 stories, I will generate N number of use cases to provide thoroughness in my user specification document; leading to complete clarity for my development team to generate their design. As a golden principle based on my experience-  A user story is a way to tell the development team on how you expect the user to perform the actions and what is allowed, and what is beyond the scope. User stories lead to use cases; use cases lead to user requirements and user requirements lead to development specifications that can finally be broken into sprints and delivered across project milestones.  

How To Work With Agile User Stories?

1K
How To Work With Agile User Stories?

In the software industry, the word “user story” is very commonly used. Not a single day goes by when we don’t come across this word during our daily scrum meetings or sprint retrospectives discussions. Our leads and development managers talk about user stories incessantly. 

Even when software feature owners or product managers speak to their development or test team or their end customers, their entire focus of conversation is centered around the word, user stories.

The word user stories and use cases have existed in the software engineering psyche for almost 30+ years but they found their resurgence especially when the AGILE methodologies, Concepts and Sprints became the bread and butter of entire software industry.

In this article on user stories, I would like to bust some myths surrounding this concept and answer the questions that commonly plague even the most experience people of this industry.

How am I qualified to write on this topic?

While you are welcome to read about my profile in brief at the end of this article; to summarize, I have worked with top companies like Microsoft etc. in the product engineering domain conceptualizing, implementing and supporting multiple products that have been huge success [for example: Windows operating system] and some, not so successful attempts.

While it is not easy to credit the success or failure of such software products to just one concept of adequate user stories or lack of them, but they did play an important role in the final outcome of the project.

Hence, I am basing this article on my experience with user stories.

Let’s Start

As official definitions across web, user story is an informal story that depicts how a user will move from one aspect of software product to another.

And use cases are defined as informal list of actions and events that will happen once a user starts interacting with the product.

But we all know that these are textbook definitions.

Yet we all falter at one or the other time while trying to explain these two concepts to someone in our team or during an interview.

Isn’t it?

Let us try to understand the differences between these two terms and it will become easy once we all grasp the point of why these two concepts were introduced in the software engineering parlance.

Why user stories and Use Cases as concepts came into being?

As software products grew in scope and complexity, requirement management started becoming a nightmare for all product managers. It became increasingly common to ship products that did not cover 100% of requirements either due to missed requirements while documentation, or due to the fact that not all requirements were understood completely by development team.

This problem became prominent when software started being shipped as service and competition became fierce. 

Nowadays, if your software does not satisfy user requirements properly, then it is just a matter of time when a better app will take over your market share as we have seen in multiple cases in recent times.

This is the reason why products like Google search engine perform so well. Because they somehow understand what a user is looking for while searching and that shows up in its popularity.

As this reality dawned, product managers started thinking of ways to make sure customer requirements did not go missing or were implemented exactly as user would have liked to.

Things like traceability matrix etc. helped to some extent but did not solve the problem completely.

That’s when the concept of user stories and use cases started proving themselves. Someone, or may be a group of intelligent smart people thought, why not capture the requirements, at least the first cut after talking to the customer in the same way as they would have performed the action if they were working with the software as a first person.

Boom!

That’s how the concept of documenting the requirements as user stories came into being.

Hence, in simple terms, user story is a short story of a fictitious character, but with a valid role and responsibility using the software or a feature of it and getting the desired results from it.

And use cases are nothing but series of actions that the fictitious character performed with respect to the software or a feature of it with the documented desired output.

Hence, it can be summarized that user stories depict the way the end user is going to use the system and use cases are short actions with desired outputs, that when collated become a user story.

This means, it is possible to derive use cases from user stories.

Every good user story should contain following elements:

  • Actor(s): Every user story should contain few actors in it with specific roles and responsibilities. Actors generally correspond to the users who are going to use the system.
  • Role: Every actor of a user story has a role associated with it. The role refers to the position, responsibility of that actor within that scene. It also lists down the privileges that the actor has or does not have.
  • Scenario: Every user story depicts one scenario where we briefly explain the scene setting of where the user(s) is or are, what they are supposed to do and the intended outcome or direction assigned to them.
  • Storyline: This is actually the user story where we depict, how a particular actor was assigned a task and how they are going to proceed with it. It includes the interactions that they will do through the software or the functionality of the software and what desired outcome they got.
  • User Satisfaction Criteria: The final section of user story contains a brief mention of why user and his stakeholders will be happy upon successful implementation of this user story.

I will give you one sample of a good user story and a bad user story. First of all, let us understand how a bad user story looks like.

Sample for bad user story:

Raj has opened the software and he used the report generation feature of the tool to generate the report. The report looks good and satisfies the purpose of his report generation. He sends this report to his manager and completes the task.

Why this is a bad user story?

This will look like a decent user story as it covers what the user wants to do; but in reality, this is a classic case of bad user story because it leaves lot of margin for error and misinterpretation by the developer during code implementation. How?
1.) Who is Raj? What privilege does he have? What access does he have to the system?  
a. These points are not clarified. Hence, the developer can interpret in his/her own way leading to wrong feature development and customer dissatisfaction or Production bugs
b. In this case, it will lead to security issues in the product itself.

2.) It does not specify as to how one should use report generation feature and where to find it on the screen. Moreover, there is no accompanying UX or sample screens for developer to know where to place this feature on the screen.

3.) It does not specify how the report looks like and which format it is in. Is it an excel based report or HTML report? If these things are not clear, it might leave a lot of margin for error for the developer during development phase.

There are many more other problems with the above user story. 

Now let us check a sample for good user story.

Sample for good user story:

Raj, is a system admin in the XYZ company. He has the admin access to the report generation server and is the only person to have this access. He gets an email request from his manager for report generation in excel format for the period between 1st Jan to 31st March and is supposed to generate this report in 15 minutes and send it to him.

Raj opens the software and clicks on the “report generation” tab on the top header of the screen [as shown in the sample UI] and chooses the required fields such as time period for the report, format of the report and clicks on generate.

The report is generated in 1 minute and is available for download and save or directly open. Raj saves it on his desktop and opens it. Verifies the report in his MS Office 2016 suite and emails it to his manager.

He was able to complete this task in less than 15 minutes and hence, he and his manager both are happy with this report generation feature of this software.

Why is this a good user story?

  • It clearly explains Raj’s role in the system and mentions the privileges that he should have for this activity.
  • It also clarifies who else has this privilege. In this case, no one apart from Raj has this access.
  • User story is clear in the performance aspect of the feature of this software in terms of time constraints.
  • It also shows the sample screen where developer will know how the button should look like, where it should be placed on screen etc.
  • The user story is clear on what all fields are to be filled in by Raj before generating the report
  • The options that should be presented to the user after report generation are also mentioned explicitly in the user story
  • And most important of all, the user story clearly explains why the user and his stakeholder, Raj and his manager in this case, are happy by the usage of this feature. That is known as user satisfaction criteria.

What additional information should be provided along with user story?

A functional specification document is the one that acts like a holy guide to the development lead and his team for generation of completely flawless development specification document. However, providing following information along with user story does add credit to your user stories in addition to the ones mentioned above. We will take the same report generation example.

1.) List down all possible formats of the report that should be supported by this feature
a. Each format will become a separate use case within above described user story.

2.) List down the range of actions supported by the feature of that software. That will be a separate user story.
a. And each range will become a unique use case within that user story.

3.)    Provide all the UX assets i.e. samples for UI to be used by the developer.
a.This ensures consistency of the UI

This leads to another set of questions:

1.) How to know which aspects of the feature should become a separate user story 
2.) How to know which aspects of a user story should become a use case within a particular user story.
Let us discuss the first question here. I will cover second question in my future post about use cases.

How to know which aspect of a functionality should be a separate user story or not?

The golden principle that I generally follow to determine this is:

 All the actions related to one aspect of the feature [for example: report generation in prescribed format] will be one user story
Working with that same example of report generation feature, if we assume that the report generation feature should have following aspects/benefits as desired by our end customers:

1.) The report generation will take less than 15 minutes
2.) The report can be generated for multiple time periods and are customizable by the user
3.) The feature will support 5 different report format types such as excel, word, HTML, notepad, CSV
4.) Only authorized person will be able to generate the report

Then I will make 4 user stories out of these.

1.) User story 1: This will tell the story of how the user [Raj I this case, will use this feature to generate report in different formats as per requirement
2.) User Story 2: Here I will showcase, how user should have access to system before using this feature and what happens if the user does not have access.
3.) User story 3: I will focus on the timing aspects of the feature here.
4.) User story 4: I will work with different supported time ranges and what will happen in different combinations including the boundary cases.
5.) User story 5: Here I will focus on how the user will interact with other controls of this feature such as cancel button etc.

And finally, out of these 5 stories, I will generate N number of use cases to provide thoroughness in my user specification document; leading to complete clarity for my development team to generate their design.

As a golden principle based on my experience- 

A user story is a way to tell the development team on how you expect the user to perform the actions and what is allowed, and what is beyond the scope.
User stories lead to use cases; use cases lead to user requirements and user requirements lead to development specifications that can finally be broken into sprints and delivered across project milestones.
 

KnowledgeHut

KnowledgeHut

Author

KnowledgeHut is an outcome-focused global ed-tech company. We help organizations and professionals unlock excellence through skills development. We offer training solutions under the people and process, data science, full-stack development, cybersecurity, future technologies and digital transformation verticals.
Website : https://www.knowledgehut.com

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Suggested Blogs

Why Scrum Is Lightweight; Simple To Understand; Difficult To Master?

85 percent of respondents say Scrum continues to improve quality of work life—State of Scrum 2017-2018 We have all heard companies who have adopted Scrum wax eloquent about its advantages and the benefits it brings in to business. Scrum has been adopted because it is supposed to be simple and promotes collaboration and communication. Yet, more organizations attempting the Agile/Scrum transformation often fail and end up abandoning their transformation or get stuck in a limbo. So, is the golden statement that ‘Scrum is lightweight, simple to understand, difficult to master’ true? In this blog we attempt to decipher this statement and understand how Scrum Masters can help make Scrum projects or implementations successful.Where to start?So, what makes Scrum so popular? That it is better suited to the changing market conditions of the present times is well known, but how is it able to do it?  Scrum is an adaptable, iterative framework that helps Scrum teams break down large projects into small chunks called epics and sprints. Goals are defined and timeboxed. Teams are small, self-organized and with a high degree of cross-function. A goal or functionality has to be delivered at the end of each sprint. This helps for quick feedback and gives teams the ability to adapt to changing requirements—a must in times when products have to adapt quickly to please changing user preferences.  The advantages of Scrum include:  More satisfied customers Better managed processes and happier teams Better visibility into projects Better quality products  Projects completed withing time and budget constraints Better adaptability  Motivated teams Lightweight Management ProcessScrum is a lightweight framework because it provides adaptable solutions to complex problems and helps teams and organizations generate value.Why Scrum is considered to be lightweight, easy to understand but difficult to master?Lightweight: Scrum, based on Agile values, has few elements and maximizes responsiveness to customer needs. This makes it lightweight and apt for software development in the modern world.  Easy to Understand: With just three roles, three artifacts, four ceremonies and 12 Agile values, Scrum is pretty easy to understand. Scrum is a collection of practices and concepts that teams use to build processes around. The Scrum Guide which is the Scrum bible is also easy to read and understand. The three scrum roles are: Team, Scrum Master, Product Owner The ceremonies are:  Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Retrospective and Sprint Review The three artifacts are: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Burndown chart  Difficult to Master: So, if Scrum is so easy to learn about and understand then why is that it’s difficult to actually implement and master? Let us look at this from the perspective of a Scrum Master. A Scrum Master is a critical part of the Scrum team and is in effect a microcosm of Scrum upholding the Agile values and focusing on creating a self-organizing, highly motivated and collaborative team. Scrum is a not a one-size-fits- all framework. Perhaps that is what makes it difficult to master. It has to be tailored to suit the needs of each project, team and organization. There are several factors that need to be considered before adopting Scrum. The Scrum Master’s role, similarly, needs to be learnt and there are several skills a professional must have or needs to cultivate in order to be a successful Scrum Master. The Scrum Master’s Role in a Successful Scrum Adoption:There are many Scrum teams that have started out in the right way, but soon fall by the wayside as they do not follow Scrum in principle. This is where the Scrum Master plays a very critical role in the success of the team. Despite Scrum being ‘simple to understand and difficult to master’ the Scrum Master is considered to be the expert on all things Scrum.As a coach, guide and mentor, the Scrum Master should facilitate the successful adoption of Scrum, and help others to gain mastery over Scrum principles and values.A Scrum Master must mandatorily follow certain core values and inspire the team to follow them as well. These core values that include openness, commitment, focus, courage and respect bring the team together and promote better work ethics and practices.Besides inculcating Scrum principles and values and guiding a successful adoption, a Scrum Master should also have these attributes:  An Unbiased and Open Mind:  An unbiased and open mind is key to being a good Scrum Master. As part of their portfolio, Scrum Masters have to work with different teams and team members having different personalities. Having an open mind will help the Scrum Master to not look at every team with the same lens and treat each team differently. Solutions that work for one team may not work for other teams or situations. Having an open mind will help you realise this and tweak your decisions based on teams and situations.   Transparency:  Transparency and open communication are the pillars of Scrum. As a Scrum Master your intentions should be open and transparent to everyone including your team and the product owner. The team must at all times know your reasons for doing certain things or taking certain decisions. Being upfront with the team members will help in trust building and lead to better work ethics.   Metrics to Map Progress:There are several tools available to track a team’s progress and the Scrum Master must ensure that these metrics showing the team’s progress be made available to the entire team. This will help the team better plan sprints, work collaboratively and improve working practices in order to ensure better output and value.   Motivation for Team Members: Keeping your team members happy and motivated is a Scrum Master’s main job. This includes removing obstacles that may impede the team from performing and helping them work according to Scrum values and techniques. The development team develops the product, and a happy team means a well-built product and satisfied customers. Assistance to the Product Owner:  As a Scrum Master, aiding the Product Owner is a major part of your responsibility. The Product Owner is a major stakeholder in the Scrum team and the Scrum Master aids the product owner in backlog management and by facilitating Scrum events, product planning and by helping the team to identify backlog items. Aiding the Product Owner in issues that they may face with regards to the project, stakeholders or the team will create a positive environment and will make things between the team and the product owner smoother.   Focus on the Challenges: Every Scrum project comes with its set of issues. But an effective Scrum Master will be aware of every challenge or impediment that comes in the way of the development team and takes these problems head on. Focusing on these challenges early on and resolving them is paramount to the success and progress of the team and the project. Appreciation for Achievements:  The focus of daily sprints and retrospectives is often to celebrate achievements and give the development team proper appreciation. A Scrum Master encourages and motivates and this they also do by respective current achievements. While giving advise on how things should be done is necessary, appreciating the team on its achievements is equally important.   Respect for Others: Your team members all have different personalities and each brings their own uniqueness and expertise to the team. No one team member is less or more important than the other. An effective and efficient Scrum Master will recognise this early on and treat every team member with the same amount of respect.  Understanding of Situations in the Right Context:  Not all things are as what they appear. The sooner a scrum master understands this, the better. Situations in context to teams, individuals and even the organization are not always black and white and the Scrum Master must consider the baggage of organizational culture, current systems, internal politics, etc before coming to a conclusion about a team or a team members. Instead, one must attempt to form close relationships with the team and understand the workings of the team and the organizations before passing judgement. Ability to Have Tough Conversations :  You as a Scrum Master are often seen as a problem solver, friend and mentor. But don’t let this image of yours come in the way of making tough decisions or having tough conversations. As a Scrum Master you must have the courage to do the right thing and if this means having difficult but necessary conversations with either the team members, the product owner or the stakeholders, then you must do it.    Courage to Protect the Team:  More often than not, there are unreasonable demands made on the development team. The Scrum Master should have the courage to protect the team and say an emphatic ‘no’ to the Product Owner or the stakeholders.  Accountability: You are accountable for your team’s success as you are for its failures. If as a Scrum Master you want your team to be accountable then the best way to get them to do that is to be accountable yourself. You can do this by being more invested in the day-to-day activities of the team and considering yourself to be a part of the team as well.  Support for Team Members: As a Scrum Master you are not just invested in the project but also in the growth of individual team members. You should motivate, encourage and support your team members to grow and reach heights in their careers.   Deep Commitment: If the team feels that the Scrum Master is committed to the project, committed to the team and committed to the team members, then they are more likely to be open and transparent with the Scrum Master. This trust with the team has to be built so that team members can be open about the challenges they face. The Scrum Master is the voice of the team and must support them at all stages.   Focus on Improvement:  Scrum is all about continuous improvement and the success of the Scrum Master is also tied to the continuous improvement of the Scrum team. If your team is getting better with time then you are doing well as a Scrum Master. From daily sprints to retrospectives, the Scrum Master provides avenues for the team to improve itself, identify problems and suggest solutions to work better.  Conclusion Scrum is the most used Agile framework, yet there are several lessons that organizations need to learn about Scrum before they embark on a transformation journey. This lightweight and easy to use framework can turn around the fortunes of companies if implemented in the right way. It’s important for an organization’s culture to be ready to accept and implement Scrum for project and organizational success.  
7721
Why Scrum Is Lightweight; Simple To Understand; Di...

85 percent of respondents say Scrum continues to... Read More

Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servant-Leader!

The term servant leader is synonymous with a Scrum Master. But what does it mean? The Scrum Master is a servant leader in Agile projects, but servant leadership goes far beyond Agile, and Scrum Masters serve more than just the team.In this blog we attempt to look at the Scrum Master’s role as a servant leader, what the role entails and the responsibilities of the Scrum Master beyond the team, in context to the organization. What is servant-leadership?The term servant leadership was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his article “The Servant as Leader”, in which he defined a servant leader as: The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That leader significantly differs from one who is leader first, may be due to the need to acquire power, material belonging, control and authority within the organization. Servant leadership is something very different from traditional leadership, which places the leader at the top of the hierarchy and the employees in the lower rung. Servant leadership, in a sense, is the opposite of traditional leadership, as it places the leader at the bottom of the hierarchy while employees are on the higher rungs. The leaders, in this case, are serving the people above them. Servant leadership refers to leaders who believe in serving people and the community that they are a part of, rather than accumulating power for themselves. This style of leadership emphasizes on helping subordinates better themselves, empowering employees and helping others perform to the best of their abilities.Servant leadership does not prescribe telling employees what to do, instead it helps the workforce find their sense of ownership and unlock their potential to reach their goals. Servant leadership is all about empowering others, which when consistently done can raise morale, enhance productivity and reduce employee attrition.Servant Leadership and ScrumScrum, in a way, is the very essence of servant leadership. Unlike traditional project management methodologies, it does not follow a top-down, hierarchical approach. Instead, decisions are lateral and happen with the involvement of the whole team. Scrum is the perfect approach in which to practice the concept of servant leadership. The 5 Scrum values of Openness, Respect, Commitment, Courage, and Focus, adhere to the philosophy of Servant Leadership. The Scrum Master plays a key role in the development of the product, the team and the organization. The Scrum Guide defines the servant leadership a Scrum Master’s role has to perform in context to the roles mentioned above. The Scrum Values that a Scrum Master practices have a ripple effect throughout the organization. The Scrum Master is seen as an evangelist for practicing and promoting Scrum in the enterprise.The Agile Manifesto and servant-leadershipThe Agile Manifesto states that one must value: Individuals and interactions over Process and tools Working software over Comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation Responding to change over Following a plan These again align with the values of servant leadership, which is all about putting people or employees first. The Agile Manifesto describes focusing on building projects around motivated individuals and giving them an environment of support, trust and collaboration—all characteristics of servant leadership.Who Are These Servant Leaders?The Scrum Guide defines the service provided by the Scrum Master as servant leadership. The Scrum Master selflessly provides servant leadership to the development team, product owner and the whole organization. By serving these entities, the Scrum Master can create a high performing team, a valuable product and an efficient organization that is able to meet business objectives and keep customers happy.  Though the term Scrum Master may be deceptive, the Scrum Master is not a master of the team but in fact serves the team in order to ensure smooth functioning and productivity.Servant Leadership and Scrum Master Roles of Servant LeadershipServant leadership:The day-to-day activity of a Scrum Master involves servant leadership. Servant leadership in a scrum team involves performance planning, coaching, helping the team self- organize, resolving conflicts through conflict management, removing obstacles that hinder progress and serving the team. The Scrum Master, while practicing servant leadership, helps the team grow and mature and become independent enough to make their own decisions. Servant leadership in Scrum is all about making the team self-reliant, so they can cope with the pressures of the role. As a servant leader the Scrum Master creates a high performing team, helps them become collaborative and high performing in order to achieve goals and meet the requirements of the customer.  Service to the Scrum Team: As a servant leader, the primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the development team perform. They help the team perform to the best of their abilities by giving them an environment that is conducive to work in, encouraging them, guiding them and removing obstacles that may hinder progress. As a coach, the Scrum Master will guide the team on scrum processes and help them adhere to Agile values during the development of the product. The Scrum Master is responsible for the scrum team’s effectiveness, and they work tirelessly to ensure that the team is motivated, encouraged, creative and innovative. The Scrum Master through servant leadership helps the team improve Scrum practices which helps them become more productive and generate value. The Scrum Team’s role in motivating and helping the team comes through in the daily stand-up meetings that are arranged as part of the sprint. The Scrum Master encourages team members to share their grievances and progress made through the sprint. Team members can talk about obstacles that may be hindering their work and due cognizance will be taken up by the Scrum master to ensure that these obstacles are removed.  According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Development Team by: Coaching the team in becoming self-organized and cross-functional Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value increments by removing impediments Helping the team deliver within the timeframe of the sprint Service to the Product Owner: The Scrum Master is a servant leader not just for the development team but also the Product Owner. While the Product Owner is primarily responsible for the product backlog, they cannot do this alone. The Scrum Master aids the development team and the Product Owner with effective product backlog management.The Scrum Master is involved at every stage of the product backlog grooming, helping the product owner with Scrum events, product planning and to identify backlog items along with the development team. The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner define the product vision to the team.   According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Product Owner by: Helping in Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management Helping the Scrum Team understand manage the Product Backlog items Setting up empirical product planning in complex environments and, Managing and facilitating stakeholder collaboration.Service to the Organization: The Scrum Master is a coach and motivator not just for the development team but goes beyond the team to spread the awareness of Scrum in the entire organization. Scrum Masters coach and help teams and departments understand Scrum and develop an Agile mind-set. Besides servant leadership to the team a Scrum Master is also involved in promoting the ideas and values of Scrum. An organization can get an agile mind-set only if the entire organization adopts Scrum and not just a few teams. This is where the Scrum Master comes in, helping other teams not involved with Scum to gain the Agile mind-set, through training and coaching. The Scrum Master is an Agile evangelist and promotes Scrum enterprise-wide.According to Scrum.org the Scrum Master serves the organization by: Leading, training, and coaching the organization in adopting Scrum Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization Coaching employees and stakeholders in the way Scrum works Helping stakeholders work with Scrum TeamsSome Servant-Leader Behaviours for every Scrum MasterBeing empathetic: This is the foremost personality trait required for anyone wanting to become a Scrum Master. Your empathy will shine through in your interactions with the team members and your dealings with the stakeholders. You should be able to see problems from the point of view of each party and work towards solving these problems. Caring: As a caring and empathetic Scrum Master, your team will feel free to approach you and share their concerns. Providing a listening ear will make you more approachable. You will be able to more clearly understand the impediments that are stopping project progress and work towards providing a solution.  Managing Conflicts: Not all team members will get along with each other and this can cause disruptions and problems within the team, lowering their productivity. As a Scrum Master you need to be great at conflict management, help others solve their problems, work with each other and create a high performing and harmonious team. Building relationships: You need to build a rapport with your team, the product owner and the stakeholders. This will help you communicate freely and help others approach you with their problems and issues. You need to build that relationship of trust and take everyone along on the journey of success.  Being ethical: Ethics play an important role in software development, especially since software now controls every aspect of our lives. The product created should be free of malice and fraud. The Scrum Master should guide the team in delivering the product at a value and standard that is expected and agreed upon with the stakeholder. There should not be any shortcuts or concessions made on the quality of the product delivered as this will affect not just the Scrum Master and the team’s reputation but will cause a dent in the reputation of the organization.   Conclusion  Servant leadership and the Scrum Master’s role is the backbone of Scrum. The Scrum Master as a servant leader re-emphasizes the values of Scrum and helps to enhance teamwork, collaboration, motivation and value. Under the able servant leadership of the Scrum Master, individual members and the team will grow, become more confident and help in delivering value.  
7887
Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servan...

The term servant leader is synonymous with a Scrum... Read More

A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small teams. But the true benefits of Agile can only be reaped if Agile and Scrum are scaled at the enterprise level. However, this is easier said than done. According to statistics, 47% of Agile transformations are not successful. While this is a worrying trend, there are still hundreds of organizations who have got it right and are able to survive the competition by innovating faster, delivering value and adapting to changing markets. How are they doing it? By using scaled Scrum.There are several tools and frameworks available for scaling Scrum at the enterprise level. In this blog, we attempt to look at a few of these.  Scaling Scrum with NexusNexus is among the most popular frameworks for scaling Scrum. According to the Nexus Guide, “Nexus is a framework for developing and sustaining scaled product delivery initiatives. It builds upon Scrum, extending it only where absolutely necessary to minimize and manage dependencies between multiple Scrum Teams while promoting empiricism and the Scrum Values.” How is Nexus different from Scrum? Scrum defines three primary roles: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the development team. These three roles work together in one team.The Nexus framework consists of several Scrum teams that work together toward a common product goal and defines the Nexus Integration Team as an additional accountability.  Nexus helps to build on the values of Scrum and also solves the collaboration and dependency challenges that tend to occur between teams in Scrum.Benefits of using Nexus Nexus extends Scrum in the following ways:  Accountabilities: Nexus introduces the Nexus Integration Team, which consists of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and members. This team is accountable for delivering a workable product at the end of each sprint.  Events: Nexus events aim to add to or supplement Scrum events and serve not just individual teams but also the Nexus Integration Team. The objective of a sprint is to achieve the Nexus sprint goal. Artifacts: Although the teams are different, within the Nexus framework they all work towards a single goal and follow a single product backlog. There’s a high amount of transparency and work is allocated to each team. The Nexus Integration TeamAccording to the Nexus Guide, “the Nexus Integration Team exists to coordinate, coach, and supervise the application of Nexus and the operation of Scrum so the best outcomes are derived.” The Nexus Integration Team or NIT comprises of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and Nexus integration team members. There are generally three to nine Scrum teams working together in Nexus. All of them follow a single product backlog and work towards delivering a single product. The Nexus Integration Team forms an essential role within Nexus and is tasked with providing transparent accountability among the teams in Nexus.Product OwnerThe Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the product value and the work carried out in Nexus. Their primary task is to order and refine the product backlog. Being a member of the Nexus Integration Team, the product owner will work with all the Scrum teams in the Nexus Integration team. The product owner and the teams work towards better defining and refining the product backlog.Scrum MasterJust like in regular Scrum, the Scrum Master in the Nexus Integration Team is also responsible for ensuring that the Nexus framework is understood by everyone on the team as prescribed by the Nexus Guide.   MembersThe members of the Nexus Integration Team are the Scrum team members who aid the Scrum teams in adoption of tools and practices that will help the team and members deliver value at the end of each sprint that meets the definition of done. Nexus Integration Team membership should be considered more important than the individual Scrum Team membership and members should work towards first fulfilling their Nexus team responsibilities.What are the Events in Nexus?Nexus adds or augments the events as defined by Scrum. The Nexus event durations are like Scrum event durations and are guided by the Scrum Guide.  Nexus events consist of: Sprint- A Nexus sprint is the same as in Scrum, at the end of which a single increment is delivered.  Cross team refinement- The aim of Nexus is to enhance collaboration and reduce cross team dependencies. Cross team refinement helps to make dependencies and responsibilities more transparent. This makes it easier for Scrum teams within the Nexus to clearly identify and deliver their allocated tasks.  Nexus Sprint Planning- Nexus sprint planning will involve the participation of the Product Owner and concerned teams' members from each team. The purpose of the Nexus Sprint Planning is to assign and co-ordinate activities for a single sprint.  Nexus Daily Scrum- This is like the daily stand up in Scrum. Nexus daily scrum is used to identify any issues and track progress. Any issues are immediately prioritized and solved so that they do not hinder the work of the developers.  Nexus Sprint Review- This event is held at the end of sprints to provide feedback on the increment that has been built and on any future updates that have to be made. Nexus Sprint Retrospective- Like in Scrum, Nexus retrospectives are an important part of the project and are used to reflect on how quality and consistency can be improved.  Some Nexus ArtifactsNexus artifacts are the same as Scrum artifacts and when implemented correctly ensure transparency and value maximization. Every artifact is designed to give a commitment. For example, the product backlog is the artifact and its commitment is the product goal. Other artifacts and their commitments include: Nexus Sprint Backlog-Nexus Sprint Goal Integrated Increment-Definition of Done Along with Nexus, LeSS is another popular framework for scaling agile.  Scaling Scrum with LeSS The Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework is an offering from Atlassian and is a framework for scaling Scrum to multiple teams that are working on the same product. The idea behind LeSS is to start with a single Scrum team as defined in the Scrum Guide and then replicate it to multiple teams who are working on a single product. LeSS has earned the label of being “barely sufficient” as it is a simple framework to apply and uses the basic concepts of Scrum to scale.  How do Sprint Planning meetings in LeSS work?  LeSS generally carries out sprint planning in two stages. Sprint Planning One focuses on selecting items that are of topmost priority, solving unanswered issues and defining the sprint goal. The Sprint Planning Two is like the sprint plan of regular Scrum and focuses on creating a plan of action for getting things done.  Daily meeting  The daily Scrum meeting in LeSS is similar to how it is done in normal single Scrum teams and involves team members discussing the work accomplished and the work to be done during the day. It is a time-boxed meeting and helps teams address any issues that may be hindering work.   Sprint Delivery Meeting (Review) The sprint review meeting is an essential part of LeSS and helps teams and stakeholders review the product built during the sprint and suggest changes and new ideas.   Retrospective The retrospective for LeSS is similar to one team Scrum. These retrospectives held at the end of the sprint will help teams to reflect on the progress of tasks, and identify the obstacles that may hinder or impede the overall project.  Let’s take a look at some of the other frameworks that are used for scaling agile. Scaling Scrum with SAFe®The Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe in short, follows the principles of lean and agile and helps in scaling Scrum to the enterprise. It helps to manage alignment, collaboration, and delivery from multiple agile teams to ensure enterprise success. It systematically focuses on applying Scrum at each level of the enterprise, to maximize value and ensure a successful agile transformation.A successful SAFe adoption ensures end-to-end business agility with significant improvements in strategy, delivery, execution and business competencies. It helps organizations overcome competition and ensure innovative business solutions to gain customer trust and partnership. The SAFe framework is continuously improvised in order to help organizations cope with the digital age and ensure that business outcomes are delivered.Scaling Scrum with the Scrum@Scale frameworkAnother framework that allows organizations to implement Scrum at scale is the Scrum@Scale framework. This framework expands on the core principles of Scrum and helps to scale Scrum over a wide range of industries and sectors, ensuring customer satisfaction and creation of successful products. It promotes communication across all teams and departments, and optimizes resources, removes roadblocks and ensures creation of innovative products.A Final Word By driving Agile at the organizational level, companies can gain all the benefits of team-level Scrum at scale. More often than not the principles of team level Scrum are not sustainable at the enterprise level and the transformation fails. Tested and proven Agile scaling frameworks are now able to turn this around, and help organizations scale up the principles and practices of Scrum to become more adaptable, flexible and responsive. Professionals can master these frameworks and help their organization adopt the culture, mind-set and principles of Scrum and agile.  
5496
A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small tea... Read More

Useful links