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

Friday, November 29, 2013

From Stickies to Stories

A wise man once said “knowing is half the battle.” With this thought in mind (though we may not have quoted G.I. Joe aloud in our team meeting) the very first thing that happened after my team moved into our new office space was to begin papering the walls with Post-It Notes, each one representing an open question, interface, customization, report, or other unit of work. Little squares of paper everywhere, multiplying like Drosophila.

They were not yet user stories, but they represented a means of visualizing our work, a tool for the meta activity of building a backlog for the backlog, the prioritized inventory of the stories we need the product owners and others to re-arrange and elaborate so we can build our “real” product backlog before kicking off our first scrum next week.

Since Scrum is new to almost my entire team, I expected some hiccups. However, some challenges in the first two weeks were unanticipated: how important it to buy the “super-sticky” notes lest items fall to the floor in the night and find their way into the cleaning crew’s basket; the impediment of indecipherable handwriting (including m own); and whether or not the color of the paper carries meaning.

Those hurdles aside, this seemingly simple activity proved an incredibly powerful (and simple) visioning activity, and it helped get people into the spirit of the new approach we will be taking here. People started bringing pads to every meeting and asking “is that on the wall?” when potential integration points or enhancements come up. The walls become the truth; if it isn’t on the wall then it doesn’t exist. The story isn’t there? Then write the damn note (legibly as possible) and slap it on the wall. Problem solved.

Of course, the one-line notes are not enough to work from. Soon enough, several fully baked user stories and acceptance criteria appeared on the wall across from the first 500 Post-It Notes. Rolling collaboration carts (courtesy of Ikea) showed up and we stocked them with 5x8 index cards, Sharpies, Painter’s Tape and ton’s more super-sticky Post-It Notes. The team started fleshing out the stories and within a few days each first-pass one-line Post-It was replaced with a real story card. To get around the handwriting problem (and to grease the wheels of loading these stories to JIRA in the near future) many people typed up their information and glued printed copy to the cards. Elementary school arts and crafts to the rescue!

It is interesting how much better it feels, in the context of a technology initiative, to go back to basics instead of relying upon online tools. We are heavily invested in the Atlassian suite (JIRA, Confluence) but starting there proved ineffective. While we need those tools for a host of reasons – reporting and analytics, simplified creation of release notes, calculations of velocity, notifications, etc. – wall-and-paper is proving (knock on wood) a better place to start our Agile journey.

I can’t wait to see how it goes from here.


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