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November 29, 2016

Creating Good User Stories the First Time for Agile IT Delivery

By Special Guest
Ruth Zive, Vice President of Marketing, Blueprint

The Agile (News - Alert) approach holds the promise of reduced development costs and time to market, but many adjustments must be made to traditional development methods. Organizations

need user stories to form the foundation of their Agile requirements process. Dev teams and product owners meet to discuss how users will interact with their solutions. They write stories on index cards or sticky notes, and they arrange them on walls or tables to facilitate planning and discussion.

Developers take the information from these user stories to estimate the level of effort needed to implement the functionality described by the story. When written well, they can be powerful because they help developers and testers view requirements from a customer’s perspective. They provide context and an understanding of what motivates the people who will use the solutions they deliver.

User Story Challenges

As enterprises have embraced Agile and are working through the transition phase, they are struggling to figure out how user stories fit, because:

  • The number of user stories can quickly get out of hand due to complexity. Most enterprise projects involve the development and enhancement of multiple, integrated systems to deliver functionality for a variety of roles. Users can take many paths that often interconnect and overlap with other processes. This can mean hundreds of user stories for a project of any size. Manually recording and managing the wealth of information that the development team needs is not feasible, and user stories can be missed or misinterpreted in the process.
  • User stories can suffer from poor quality because stakeholders are unfamiliar with them. Developers and testers may prefer user stories over a lengthy, text-heavy Business Requirements Document, but user stories are new to most business stakeholders and Business Analysts. As organizations try to transition to Agile, these individuals struggle to write high-quality user stories that accurately and sufficiently describe all customer needs. They get bogged down writing and managing them and lose focus on the bigger picture.
  • Critical nonfunctional requirements, like those for compliance, security and performance, must be addressed, but this complicates the adoption of user stories because they weren’t designed to represent those types of requirements. User stories scribbled on sticky notes or created in an Excel spreadsheet don’t support the rigor enterprises need for audits, change management, history and traceability.

Enterprises need to keep complexity and risk in mind as they seek to realize Agile’s benefits for their complex, high-dollar and high-risk projects. They need a robust Agile requirements tool to help them, especially for the creation of reliable, consistent and high-quality user stories.

Empowering Teams to Tell Great Stories

One international consulting firm put its finger on a way to alleviate much of the difficulty. PricewaterhouseCoopers (News - Alert) noted in its paper, Adopting an Agile Methodology, Requirements gathering and delivery: “As companies shift from small projects and teams engaged in Agile to more complex projects and potentially distributed teams, there is a need to shift from paper and spreadsheets to tools that provide workflow, persistence and traceability.”

To help meet this need, there are now best-in-class requirements management tools that enable teams to leverage the power of user stories for development while making it easier for business stakeholders and business analysts to create them. These tools eliminate the need to manually create user stories within the development teams’ Agile tools. They bridge the gap between traditional and Agile requirements, enabling enterprises to scale Agile while managing enterprise concerns.

Requirements management tools of this kind help teams generate enterprise-level user stories with powerful capability sets, enabling them to:

  • Collaborate to visually define customer journeys. This allows stakeholders to “tell their stories” as they work with product owners and business analysts to collaboratively define customer journeys. Using the familiar construct of user models—with steps, decision points, actors and condition statements—the entire team collaborates to record and analyze processes in a shared workspace. Teams maintain a focus on strategic objectives when making prioritization decisions and spend less time managing a huge list of user stories manually.
  • Auto-generate high-quality user stories and tests from process flows. Product owners and business analysts use customer journeys to automatically generate user stories and acceptance criteria with the click of a button. They push these artifacts into the development teams’ Agile management tool of choice, where developers and testers also have access to related requirements information, like regulatory information, visual models and constraints, supporting a comprehensive understanding. User stories are reliable and consistent, and there is no longer a need to spend time and money to teach business stakeholders or business analysts to write them.
  • Gain benefits from Agile while using enterprise-level capabilities for visualization, traceability and reuse. Support for visual models and the ability to relate them to one another and other requirements artifacts helps teams establish the precise traceability they need to ensure full requirements and test case coverage. It also supports improved change management and decision-making, ultimately leading to higher-quality software. Customer journey models can be reused across projects and teams, as can user stories and other requirements artifacts, saving time and improving consistency.

These benefits are available to organizations around the world that want to lower development costs and speed time to market. By using a next-generation Agile requirements tool, enterprises can use visualization, collaboration, traceability, management analytics and reuse features to bring IT and business teams together to serve their stakeholders while managing complexity and taking budgetary constraints into account.

About the Author:

Ruth Zive is a marketing strategist at Blueprint. She has worked for two decades serving B2B clients in the technology, healthcare and financial services industries.




Edited by Alicia Young
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