Pain is temporary, failure lasts forever

Lean, agile living for the running mother of Peter

2008-08-21

Where are the details in the story?

When I read a story to my son, I don't have to tell him all the details because he uses his imagination to fill in the blanks. And the amazing thing is that the details are just magnificent. Some of us oldies have the same objections to Lego. When we were kids there weren't all of those special parts but you could use your imagination to make those standard parts all the cool stuff we wanted to create or simply play with.

Working with stories like "As a mobile client user, I can book my assignments so that I don't get double booked" is some what like working with standard Lego. Mike Cohn says that a story is a placeholder for a conversation because if you drop a story like that on a bunch of developers and then run as fast as you can from the project, of course you won't get what you want. Just like dropping a handful of Lego parts on a kid and expecting him to build what you want, without direction.

So, a story needs to be completed with some direction. And this in the form of a conversation. If you're building a puzzle or completing some kind of model or Lego structure right from the box: what do you do? Well, most of us look at the completed picture to know what we're aiming for. OK: we're building a space ship. Cool!

Why do Lego use pictures as instructions? Just imagine building a Lego Space ship from a written description. How good are your chances at getting that right? And how much time is spent on trying to understand the text?

When you write the story: you draw the big picture and then you go in to details. Well, We're going to need some landing gear. And then we can get into all those details for that part. So, keep the story short and add details as you go along. When you need them. And when you have enough to make a decision.

But does that not mean that I have to be around those dev guys all the time? well, not all the time, but a lot of your time. If you are the one who can make decisions. For developers make those decisions if you're not there. Or they stop working.

But how can you estimate that story stuff? Sounds crazy. Well, back to my Lego. How long does it take to build that space ship? Well, even if you have the detailed spec and read from that and then give an estimate on how much time you will probably be wrong. And if you have kids, they will disturb you or wreck the stuff while you are working.

But what you can do is that you can take two lego models, look at them and say which one will take longer to build. You can probably say if one is double the effort. But if the model is huge (full size Cottage) you have no idea for it's is simply to big to estimate. And this is why you don't estimate stuff on the product backlog using actual (or as I call it: inaccurate) time but using story points. She's just getting more and more vague? Or... Get back to you!

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