Death of a User Story

In my last post I wrote about user stories and how it’s easy to write a user story and forget to include the value statement.  Now that we’re all writing user stories with value statements, I thought it would be interesting to look at another phenomenon I’ve seen far too often when it comes to user stories – their death.  Yes, all good things must come to an end, but the way too many user stories die is not fitting.

Let’s take the example user story from the last post, which was from the Apple iPhone product owner (who am I kidding, Steve Jobs):

As an iPhone 3G user I want to be able to make VoIP calls over the 3G network in addition to wi-fi so that I can save money by not using my crazy expensive voice minutes.

RIP User StoryThe team working this user story thinks they’ve got it during their backlog selection. They’re excited to put the screws to the carriers as they prepare to expand beyond AT&T and turn the cell phone industry on its head.  The team does their task breakdown and they’re off and racing.  Daily scrums are happening, team members are communicating, impediments are being raised, tasks are getting done, and all is good in iPhone VoIP call land. The sprint review rolls around and the team is ready to show off their solution. They demonstrate making VoIP calls on a 3G network. Only one little problem.  The team mentions that in order to complete this story in time they decided it was best to use a VoIP service provider that would make the user experience far superior to any the team could develop in a reasonable amount of time.  The VoIP service provider charges a monthly fee. On top of the monthly fee there are hidden charges around certain types of calls. The product owner does his own demonstration following this. He demonstrates how the iPhone 3G can be used in combat by chucking the sleek devices directly at the team members’ heads.

So what happened? The user story was viewed during backlog selection, placed in a sprint management tool, and forgotten about until the sprint review. The team understood what they were doing, or so they thought. They were focused on completing the tasks to get the user story done. The team lost track of the actual user story – out of sight, out of mind.

The trick is to make sure the user story doesn’t get lost throughout the sprint and die a quick (yet too often) painful death. I haven’t figured out how to do this. Posting the user stories up on boards/walls is one idea. Temporary tattoos (that last the length of a sprint) of each user story on every team member’s forearms is another. Wait, that’s it. Sorry, I’ve got to make some calls now. My temporary tattoo parlor is calling.

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