We laid out the various steps that may occur in getting a story ready for iteration and drew those steps up on a board as columns. We ended up with something that looked a bit like this:
Figure 1. Example Discovery Board
Stories began their journey in the New column and stayed there until the team identified a set of acceptance criteria, at which point they were moved to the Ready to Estimate column. We had some discussion within the team about whether to have a Needs Research column, because there were some stories that the team needed to do more work on in order to further understand either the story’s business or technical implications. We decided to not create a column for Needs Research because not all stories would flow through there, and instead used red dots to indicate the stories that needed some form of research; these stories stayed in New until that research was done and an "X" was drawn in the red dot.
Stories in the Ready to Estimate column form the "to-do" list for the weekly sizing session. Since this board was on a magnetic whiteboard with wheels, if the team members had their sizing discussion in an area separate from their team space, they could roll the board to wherever they were having the discussion. During the sizing meeting, as team members sized a story, they wrote the size on the card representing that story and move it over to Estimated.
The Estimated column formed the queue of stories that needed examples, a wireframe, and the rest of the information needed to meet the definition of ready. The team members also decided to start using the Three Amigos technique as the final check to determine that stories were ready, or in their case Ready to Rock. They decided that not every story had to go through three amigos, only the ones dealing with new types of changes or complex changes. Once they had met and decided the story was ready, they would move it over toReady to Rock. If a story didn't need to go through the Three Amigos technique, the team member working on it would simply move the stories to Ready to Rock when he identified the examples, wireframe, and other information included in the definition of ready.
Now, when the team members met for iteration planning, they could clearly tell what stories were ready to be developed and they could focus their iteration planning discussion on what combination of stories made sense for the next two weeks. Their iteration planning became a lot more effective and the team members did not dread it nearly as much as they had before.
Visualizing the flow of stories getting ready did not completely eliminate the problem of not having enough stories ready for the next iteration, but it gave the team members an early warning signal that they needed to be talking to their stakeholders and getting some things prepped. In fact, a member of the team (we may call him…Tim) mainly focused on keeping the stories moving across the board and having the discussions with team members and stockholders necessary to get the right stories (i.e., the ones that produce the most value when completed) ready for the next iteration. The discovery board was a great help to him because he could immediately see whether there were enough stories getting close to ready; if there weren't, he could talk to product management in order to understand the next items that should be delivered from the product roadmap and he could work with team members to get those ideas fleshed out and ready for upcoming iterations. Having a visual display of work getting ready helped the team members to quickly know what should be included in the sizing meeting and whether they should have a sizing meeting at all.
The discovery board certainly helped the team members get a better handle on what conversations they had and which ones they needed to have in order to move forward.