Foggy Software Development

Software development is one of those areas that it is important to find the fine line between too little specification and too much. One project I worked on recently for a client had tremendous success mainly due to good user story development and a good development team that could take those stories and run with them.
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This was an agile shop that used the agile template in TFS but also used the vocabulary of scrum interchangeably. Nothing wrong with that, I believe there has to be a balance between adapting your process to your environment as opposed to changing your environment to fit the process especially in larger more traditional businesses. So they had sprints, sprint planning but also user stories as opposed to product backlog items. So six months into the project and all sprints were on the line of the burn-down chart, then things started to go wrong. The burn-down chart was way off with the resources we had at hand, the reason? Well we started to get user stories such as this:-

Story title: We need a different view of the data

Description: To do


Story title: General printing

Description: To do

There isn't much you can do with these, but they were in the sprint. The more time a developer spends going to ask for clarification about a user story, the less effort they can put into acting on the story. The end result after all the backwards and forwards communication is an inaccurate burn-down which can lead to a demoralised team and possible infighting. Why were these in the sprint you may ask? Well for some unknown reason, management decided to take a more hands on approach to the project and so forced stories into sprints instead of the software development team deciding what resources were available to tackle the high priority stories. The stories had to be done in that sprint even if the resource was not enough to cover it. Add to that, the management only had a vague idea of what those stories were and possibly due to lack of time couldn't expand on their details.

So what is just enough information for a user story?

  • The product owners should define the features of the project.
  • The business analyst and business owners should define the user stories that lead to the features and describe the acceptance criteria to fulfil the user story.
  • The development team should create the tasks off the user stories that will fulfil the acceptance criteria and make the user story valid.
So there has to be enough information in the user story that will define the acceptance criteria at a minimum; the implementation details should be down to the development team. So what happened to the two user stories mentioned earlier? They eventually got removed from that sprint in to the next, and then in to the next after that. Finally they were broken down into smaller stories that were described better and then got implemented into the project.   Happy coding


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