To see an endeavor through to completion, you need vision and the skills to execute it. Inspired by the software craftsmanship movement, which is making great strides on the skills front, Nancy Van Schooenderwoert has been developing a practice she calls “storycrafting” to create a clear vision.
Agile teams are action oriented. They get things done. They chop through even the biggest jobs, making incremental progress and bouncing back from difficulties.
Well, the successful ones do.
Many more agile teams are bogged down, despite the stand-up meetings, burn-down charts, and Kanban boards. These teams finish iterations with half of their promised user stories not done. They morph the meaning of “story points” to be whatever it takes to give managers the anticipated velocity number. They are going through the motions of agile but not realizing its benefits. They’re lost.
Other would-be agile teams experience problems getting started. They’ve read about XP and Scrum, and maybe they’ve even had some training, but every starting point they consider raises questions they can’t answer. So, even though they keep on studying, analyzing, and talking about agile, they are in fact locked out.
A well-crafted agile story acts as a beacon that lights up the pathway where an idea becomes an action. The story can clear the fog for teams that have lost their way and can provide locked-out teams with enough of a line of sight to customer value for the teams to proceed with confidence. What does a well-crafted agile story look like? As Brian Marick is fond of saying, an example would be handy right about now.
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Figure 1: A story before and after storycrafting
The version of the story in figure 1 that’s on the right-hand side is more useful in helping the team actually achieve what it set out to do because it gives just the right, concise specifics. This version is an end result of a storycrafting session. Storycrafting isn’t a set of rules or even a defined set of questions. It’s similar to a conversation but with some goals along the way that need to be addressed. We’ll look at each of these goals within this article in the form of a question.
But wait a minute. Do we need yet another agile practice? Isn’t this just another name for Ron Jeffries’ “ Card, Conversation, Confirmation ” concept? No, it’s a bit of guidance for having the conversation and for laying a foundation for the confirmation. For a team that has worked with a coach to write the initial stories, storycrafting acts as “training wheels” that help a team establish this new practice safely on its own. Does it work right out of the box for teams that have not used a coach? I don’t know. No one has tried that experiment, but this article is a first step.
Storycrafting has emerged from my experience coaching teams while appreciating how much difficulty they have early on with using agile stories correctly. Poorly written stories lead to many hard-to-diagnose problems, and people new to agile are by definition the least equipped to create good stories and fit them well to the context of the project.
In my role as an agile coach, I’ve worked on helping teams achieve the goal of generating agile stories that show the best paths forward. There are always multiple paths forward, but how do you choose the shortest and surest and how do you sidestep the problem of the unknown