Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eight Million (User) Stories


“There are eight million stories in the Naked City.” The Naked City, 1948.

How many stories can we write for data analysis and reporting at this institution? That is the key question, soon to be answered, as we formally launch our public efforts to transform business intelligence at Harvard.

The project began a year ago when a litany of complaints and concerns was articulated by campus financial leaders and two dozen eyes turned toward me in an unsettling moment of “and what are you doing about it?” The ocular mandate to take action on this long-festering problem – a dramatic disconnect between business operations and information technology – has driven my personal work agenda for the last year. And throughout that time I have spoken melodramatically about that day and how I instinctively curl into a fetal ball when I step foot on the Divinity School campus.

Today I return to the same room with the same group (more or less) with a plan. (I wish it didn’t take so long, but so it goes when you are also upgrading all your ERP systems and implementing a few new modules and securing funding and negotiating various and sundry other details). We now have a team in place, a platform that is available and partly configured, and funding for the next few months. We have defined a vision for improving tools and technology and a rubric for making sense of root causes beyond IT. We are embracing a new (for us) methodology – Scrum – and investing in resources (full-time Scrum “advisor”), training (CSPO, CSM, Agile Bootcamp), and tools (GreenHopper) to support that transition. It is an exciting time.

The next step is to build a backlog. Despite the long list of concerns with the current state of business intelligence / reporting / metrics, we do not have an inventory of gaps and pain points. We need that list, preferably prioritized, in order to do anything. So for the next three months we will be interviewing anyone who will talk to us and writing user stories. Lots and lots and lots of user stories. How many? How about 5,000 – that is my working target. That seems like a realistic number based on what I know – wearing my hat as a consumer of current-state reporting, I know that I can come up with a hundred, and my needs are fairly simple. 5,000 stories would be a good problem to have – talk about an unambiguous metric regarding the scope of unmet business needs! But it could also prove overwhelming. How can we possibly manage a backlog of that scale? As good as GreenHopper is for managing sprints, I think it might choke on that chicken bone. We will have to think creatively, that’s for sure! And my full-time job might be backlog grooming!


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