Eliminating waste with reusable story cards

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When coaching clients who use physical team boards, I’m seeing more of them gravitate away from pins and painters tape and toward the use of magnetic whiteboards, sticky-notes and index cards. I see them making a substantial upfront investment in the whiteboards and then again with magnets. If the magnets are too costly, I see them make the lessor but incremental investment in painters tape, post-it notes and paper index cards.  So, how do you eliminate the waste of the disposable index card or post-it note?  Just combine the magnet and card!

storycards

To be clear, I’ve got no skin in the game with this company. I’m not being paid to write this and I’ll make no money if you purchase their product. I just think this is a product that you’ll like and I think it’s worth writing about.

Though I usually don’t do product reviews, I found the product from Story Cards particularly compelling.  I asked them to send me a few samples so I could see for myself if this is something I would recommend to others.  Well, it is!

If you purchase a group of these reusable story cards, say goodbye to sticky-notes, painters tape, magnets or pins.  They come in four colors: blue, red, green, white.  These reusable story cards are made of a flexible magnetic material on one side and whiteboard material on the other.  They peel off easily but have enough grip that they won’t blow off the board like post-it notes do.  Great idea! Thank you storycards.co and day5labs.

What is Agile, anyway?

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The parable

Ever heard the story about the blind men and an elephant?  In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men touch an elephant. Each man feels a different part, but only one part, such as the leg, the tail, or the trunk.  They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

Agile, my friends, is an elephant.

The first blind man

I just completed an initial engagement with a client, for LitheSpeed.  Some of the people I interacted with were newly minted Certified ScrumMasters, some experienced developers, and some executive management.  In the mix, I met UX designers, architects, and more functional roles than this blog post should list.  The catalyst of this post happened on the first day of the engagement.  To set the stage, the organization was very clear the team is to “do” Scrum.  Due to user stories not being quite ready, the team pushed back at Sprint Planning and refused to estimate or commit to the work to be done.  I recommended the group visualize the workflow and maturation of user stories by way of a Kanban. I’ve made this recommendation before and it worked out quite well.  The response from one of the newly minted ScrumMasters was, “That sounds like waterfall!”  When I corrected him, confirming that it was not a waterfall approach,  he came back with an even better response.  “Well, it’s not Scrum.  If it’s not Scrum, it’s not Agile”.

If it’s not Scrum, it’s not Agile

A few days ago, I read a really great post by Joel Bancroft-Connors titled A Gorilla Primer: What the heck is Agile? Maybe this question is more common than I initially thought!  What I liked about Joel’s post was it exposed the fact that Agile is different for so many people.  When asked what Agile is, I tend answer the question with a question.  Are you being Agile or doing Agile?  If you are being Agile, then how?  If you are doing Agile, then how?  Before I even attempt to answer the question, I want to know your perspective.  Why?  Because as with the parable and also reality, it’s going to depend on your touch points.

Go read Joel’s post.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  When you’re done, I’m sure you’ll agree that if it’s not Scrum, it can still be Agile.

Image Source: Pictofigo (Go get one. They’re free)

Epics, User Stories and Tasks

I was working with a client this last week and I overheard one team member trying to explain the difference between Epics, User Stories, and Tasks.  He finally offered an analogy.

The Analogy

Epics are to User Stories are to Tasks as Rocks are to Pebbles are to Sand.

I thought it was a clever description of comparing relative size and complexity of work. But would it pass muster with the Agile Community? I figured I would send it out to the Twitter-verse and see if any conversations would result.

The result was an excellent conversation with David Koontz.

The Conversation

Though I will admit there are some challenges in communicating in 140 characters or less, it really forced me to think about what I was trying to say.  David did a really great job of challenging me to explain what I was thinking.  In tweet responses, David stated if it can fit in a Sprint, he calls it a User Story.  If it is too big to fit in a Sprint, it is called an Epic.  I have to say, if we all followed that model, it certainly would simplify things.

I find customers asking if they can call them sub-stories, major stories, and craziness like that. Customers take a stab at breaking down work to manageable chunks but when the team estimates the work, it’s still too big to fit into a sprint.  To restate David’s identifying criteria, too big equals epic; small enough equals user story.

David then asked me,

does Epic == collection of stories? Or some stories and some waste we should never do?

My response was,

I believe epic != collection of stories. I believe epic == placeholder of a goal or idea. Stories may result but no guarantee

The Clarification

To clarify my beliefs, I believe a User Story as merely a placeholder for a conversation.  I believe an Epic is a placeholder for a goal or an idea.  Along the way, there will be resulting value delivered and waste.

Though you should be able to map all of your User Stories (and waste) back to Epics, that’s not the goal.  You don’t just do tasks and then look for a bucket of stories or epics to group your efforts.

I won’t say having something small enough to fit in a Sprint is automatically called a User Story.  What if you don’t leverage Scrum?  What if you are leveraging Kanban?  In either case, we refer back to the conversations.  As long as your work meets your definition of Ready, I don’t care what you call it.

Thank you, David, for an excellent conversation.  I hope others will join in.