The Smaller the Story, the Faster the Progress

Johanna Rothman's picture

When I tell people my stories are very small, on the order of 20-30 minutes, they are quite surprised. "How do you see progress?" they often ask, if they are new to agile.

"Very quickly," i reply.

If you are new to agile, it seems counter-intuitive. How can a 20 or 30-minute story provide you faster progress? Here's how it works for me.

I work by myself, and I work on projects, such as the editing for with other people. That means I'm part of geographically distributed teams. We need to check in with each other periodically. We are distributed all over the US and Canada, so we only have three time zones to manage. That's easier that what some of you have to contend with.

If I were to have long stories that take me most of a day, or worse, longer than a day, I would not be able to show my progress for a very long time. That would leave my team mates wondering, "What is Johanna doing? Where is she on this task/story? Will she complete it?"

When I complete small chunks of work (the incremental part of agile), and let my team mates know, I can get feedback on my work. That's great. I allow them to make progress on their work. That's great, too--I'm not preventing them from making progress. If I haven't done something correctly, I can fix it quickly. That's why feedback is so important.

When I write books, it's the same thing. I can see my progress better when I write in small chunks. I feel better about my progress if I can see my progress in small chunks.

If you are not already working in small stories, stories that are one or two days long, consider it. Better yet, consider working as a team, swarming or mobbing on stories.

Maybe you can try an experiment and see what kind of progress you make. Or, if you've tried the experiment, maybe you can comment here. I'd love to know what your experience is.