Return on INVESTment

At our last pre-planning meeting, we made a point of putting all the user stories into INVEST format, and I was pleased that there was a general consensus that this worked well.

I think this took quite a while, partially because we were all getting used to evaluating the statement of the stories critically, but I think this was worth it. We had product, IA, and engineering folks suggesting wordings for stories, and at least some of our stories came in in a canonical format:

“As <who>, I want <feature>, so that <value>.”

Having the full INVEST filter did help us with a few things:

  • Independent: We did not have a lot of stories that were dependent, but we did end up with a very few that were cross-team. Since this was just a handful of the stories, we figured it would be ok to leave the story as is (since we couldn’t quickly come up with a way to rewrite it) and track the dependencies through our scrum-of-scrums.

  • Negotiable: I think we generally nailed this one. We did not look at any IA wireframes or Design mockups during pre-planning, and were able to identify the high-level goals here. This has already become useful in planning, where my team has suggested a new / faster approach to at least one story which was not as originally conceived, but our Product Owner agreed that we still hit the abstract requirement.

  • Valuable: There were a few stories that were original cast as abstract technical requirements (e.g. make the middleware support foo), but we refactored them in a way that expressed value to the end user (which, incidentally, will make it more obvious how to test).

  • Estimable: We’ve already agreed not to do a small handful of stories because we realized there were too many unknowns; for one of these, there was a middleware task that depended on IA we hadn’t seen and on data we didn’t have in the DB yet. We actually spent a lot of time trying to talk about how to tackle this before we realized we couldn’t estimate it. Since it was not critical for implementation this sprint, we agreed with the product owner to turn this into a story where we would do a feasibility study and rough design by the end of the sprint instead, which was something we could commit to. (The value here is to the product owner, who will then be able to write an Estimable story about the feature!)

  • Small: We did a good job here of refactoring large stories into multiple pieces and then figuring out how to get Value out of each piece. We only had a handful of medium to large stories.

  • Testable: We’re asking each team during planning to make sure they hash out “how to demo” for the feature with the Product Owner, so we should know if we’ve gotten there by the end of sprint planning.

With the up-front work on the stories we did, our team has found it easier to negotiate a specific solution and in some cases to actually plan without the product owner, which is actually convenient (he’s doing multiple duty so he’s having to bounce back and forth between multiple sprint planning sessions!).