Coaching Agile Scrum and Kanban teams, I frequently see bottlenecks when user stories that aren’t quite “Ready” find their way into development.
These three questions confirm if a story is “Ready” to be brought into a sprint, or pulled into the in-progress column in a Kanban flow.
1. Are the boundaries of the story clear?
A good story statement should confirm where the user story starts and ends. For example: As a user who has logged in and wishes to update my password, I want to see an update password screen, so that I can enter a new password and hit submit. The acceptance criteria for this user story will confirm what the update password screen needs to look like, validation rules for the new password and encryption of the password.
A team reviewing this user story would understand that a response screen is not within the boundaries of this user story and will need to be covered in another user story.
2. Do we know how to build and test this story?
Ask this question to disclose if the people building and testing the story have complete clarity on how they are going to do it. If the answer to this question is “No”, then the story isn’t “Ready” and the team needs to run a tech spike or research spike.
3. Is the story small enough?
My (frequently articulated) preference is for small stories. I like small stories for all the reasons above – the boundaries are clear and it’s easier to validate we know how to build them. I also like small stories because you can easily bring them into a sprint or Kanban flow without sizing them.
If you are running Scrum and sizing stories, what’s critical is to ask if the story is small enough to complete within a sprint.
Kanban teams will be acutely aware that any story that is too big will create a flow problem, preventing other stories from being pulled into in-progress. To improve your average lead time from, for example, two weeks to one week, ask the question “Is this story small enough to be completed in a week?” If the answer is “No”, then use your toolbox of story splitting techniques to break it down further.