Is Agile Enough (part 2)

So what is the result? Today, usually only one team member has spoken directly with a customer, and this understanding isn’t typically captured in written form anyplace to share with the rest of the product development team members. So when a technical tradeoff needs to be made, there is a 50/50 likelihood that the tradeoff is non-optimal for the customer, because the development team member lacked the understanding of which way would have been advisable.

Also, if the customer has a change of mind (or heart) on a key feature, how is this information propagated to the team? Occasionally, PM’s/PO’s will inform the team of these changes, but equally likely, the PM/PO doesn’t think a minor change is worth communicating, because it won’t make a difference, or thinks they completely understand the potential impact, and have made a unilateral decision that no change is likely, so the additional information will have no value.

However, the lack of traceability cuts both ways. If the customer change of mind isn’t understood in such a way that affected features and designs can be easily tracked, it is also likely that design changes also cannot easily be traced back to features, use cases, and customers who are affected. So when an engineer determines an original design concept is no longer feasible or optimal, and revises the design, it is the PM/PO responsibility to reconstruct “who cares?” among the customers affected. Too often, this is a casual mental exercise, without rigor or thoroughness.

Take a look at the complexity when the problem is compounded by the many-to-many relationships between customers and features they care about. Impacts of changes in customer desires or implementations aren’t 1:1 traceable back to the other. It is common that many customers are affected by single design tradeoff decisions, and that several design changes may be affected by shifts in the customer’s usage or conceptualization of the product.

So let’s back up. Where do user stories come from? Strike that… Where should user stories come from?

[These thoughts are work-in-progress towards a white paper Jeff McKenna and I are collaborating to produce. More tomorrow – Sam]

Sam Hahn

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