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Stop Telling Stories

12.13.2013
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There are beautiful, simple ideas in today’s Agile development methods that work really well. And some that don’t. Like defining all of your requirements as User Stories.

I don’t like the name. Stories are what you tell children before putting them to bed, not valuable information that you use to build complex systems. I don’t like the format that most teams use to write stories. And I don’t like how they use them.

Sometimes you need Stories, Sometimes you need Requirements

One of the “rules” of Agile is that stories have to be small – small enough to fit on an index card or a sticky note. They are too short on purpose, because they are supposed to be place holders, reminders to have conversations with the customer when you are ready to work on them:

They're not requirements. They're not use cases. They're not even narratives. They're much simpler than that.

Stories are for planning. They're simple, one-or-two line descriptions of work the team should produce.

This isn't enough detail for the team to implement and release working software, nor is that the intent of stories. A story is a placeholder for a detailed discussion about requirements. Customers are responsible for having the requirements details available when the rest of the team needs them.
James Shore, The Art of Agile - Stories

According to Mike Cohn in his book Succeeding With Agile, making stories short forces the team to shift their focus from writing about features to talking about them. Teams want to do this because these discussions are more important than what what gets written down.

But this idea can be – and often is – taken too far. Sure, most people have learned that it’s not possible to write correct, complete, comprehensive requirements specs for everything upfront. But there are lots of times when it doesn't make sense to limit yourself to 1- or 2-line placeholders for something that you hope to fill in later.

Some requirements aren't high-level expressions of customer intent that can be fleshed out in a conversation and demoed to verify that you got it right. They are specs which need to be followed line by line, or rules or tolerances that constrain your design and implementation in ways that are important and necessary for you to understand as early as possible.

Some requirements, especially in technical or scientific domains, are fundamentally difficult to understand and expensive to get wrong. You want to get as much information as you can upfront, so developers – and customers – have the chance to study the problem and think things through, share ideas, ask questions and get answers, explore options and come up with experiments and scenarios. You want and need to write these things down and get things as straight as you can before you start trying to solve the wrong problem.

And there are other times when you've already had the conversation – you were granted a brief window with people who understood very well what they needed and why. You might not get the same chance with the same people again. So you better write it down while you still remember what they said.

Short summary stories to be detailed later or detailed requirements worked out early – different problems and different situations need different approaches.

Published at DZone with permission of Jim Bird, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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