A perfect example of this is a scene in the movie The Social Network in which Mark Zuckerberg is racking his brain, knowing the product didn’t yet have what it would take to be a success. A classmate named Dustin runs over:
DUSTIN: “There’s a girl in your art history class. Her name is Stephanie Attis. Do you happen to know if she has a boyfriend?”
MARK: “Why am I being interrupted?”
DUSTIN: “Have you ever seen her with anyone? And if not, do you happen to know if she’s looking to go out with anyone?”
MARK: “Dustin. People don’t walk around with a sign on them that says—“
Mark stops right there as he realizes what his product needs to be successful: a relationship status. And the rest is history. Mark left his dorm room, went out into the world, listened to his users, and immediately changed the product based on what he learned. It was somewhat successful.
The lean start-up model contends that if your business isn’t doing what Mr. Zuckerberg did, you might as well just burn your money because you won’t build the right product. This approach works, and some smart enterprises are already adopting as many aspects of the lean start-up as possible. This is one of the ways you can make sure you are creating the valuable requirement to execute to because this is the path to requirements craftsmanship.
In the meantime, what is the agile community offering? We say the product owner owns the backlog, and sometimes that’s the full extent of our participation in requirements craftsmanship. Sometimes we might say something really smart, like, “You need to break epics into features and then break those down into stories, and further define these terms by saying that a story fits into an iteration and a feature should fit into a release cycle.” Where is the value? Where is the guidance to assure that value is being created based on solid empirical data?
We must start owning both software craftsmanship and requirements craftsmanship or we will never fulfill the promise of delivering valuable software early and continuously. We will never truly be agile.