What do I mean by ‘agile storytelling’?
Explaining complicated things clearly.
The agile storyteller in the shell of a nut: uses the tools of creative writing in agile iterations. The agile approach shapes itself around an extended metaphor of narrative: themes, epics, stories. I’ve quoted Giles Foden on the need to use the tools of creative writing to concentrate the flux of information available in the digital age.
The agile approach is all about storytelling. The approach shapes itself around an extended metaphor of narrative:
- stories: a user story is simply something a user wants
- epics: an epic is just a big user story
- themes: sometimes it’s helpful to think about a group of stories, so a ‘theme’ is a collection of user stories
The story lets the team know what ‘good’ looks like. And good stories need good storytellers. The better the story the better the product.
Peter has consistently helped me deliver complex system changes for O2 Money…he’s able to interpret complex technical explanations into plain English to drive the right decisions and outcomes. And always with humor & a smile.
Simon Clutterbuck – O2 Financial Services Product Manager
The agile approach values:
- individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- working software over comprehensive documentation
- customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, the items on the left are more important if you’re taking an agile approach.
There are very few hard-and-fast rules to agile software development. There are things like:
- work in iterations of no more than a month long
- by the end of each iteration be “done” with something to some pre-agreed upon definition of done and get feedback on it from your key stakeholders
- at the start of an iteration, get together and figure out what you’re doing to do during the iteration
- at the end of the iteration, reflect on how well you did during the iteration
- talk a lot during the iteration
Beyond that, it’s more about recommendations.
How does the agile approach work?
What’s a Scrum team?
I heard about the ‘two pizza’ team rule from Mike Cohn when I did his Certified Scrum Master (CSM) training. (Apparently it’s a Jeff Bezos rule): that a team shouldn’t be larger than two pizzas can feed. A typical Scrum team is 5 to 9 people. Rather than scaling by having a large team, Scrum projects scale through having teams of teams.
What’s a user story?
User stories help shift the focus from writing about requirements to talking about them. It’s a description of how a product can meet a user need. All agile user stories include a written sentence or two – GOV.UK stories use the format:
As a [user], I want to [do something], so I can [meet a need].
As a customer using the system, I want the text to be in plain language, so I that can easily understand what is being displayed on-screen or being read by my screen reader.
What’s a sprint?
The agile approach is about iteration. A sprint is a regular, repeatable work cycle, usually kept to a one-week or two-week cycle. When they plan the sprint, the team will agree to take on work that they can do in that cycle, to produce a ‘potentially shippable product increment.’
What’s a stand-up?
The agile approach is about continuous review. While the sprint is running, the team holds a daily meeting called a ‘stand-up’. It’s usually at the same time every day, and in the same place.
The stand-up is time-boxed, usually to 15 minutes, and each member of the team answers 3 questions:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- What’s standing in my way?
There’s an old joke about a chicken and a pig that illustrates a key concept in the daily stand-up…
Chicken: ‘Let’s start a restaurant.’
Pig: ‘Good idea, but what do we call it?’
Chicken: ‘How about “Ham and Eggs”’
Pig: ‘No thanks. You’d be involved, but I’d be committed.’
The joke is meant to point out the difference between those who are committed on a project and those who are only involved. The ‘pigs’ are the core of the Scrum team. Many teams have a rule that if you’re not committed, you’re not allowed to talk during the daily stand-up.
What’s a retrospective?
No matter how good a Scrum team is, there’s always room for better. The sprint retrospective gives the team a chance to review what’s going well at the end of the sprint, and what could go better. It’s usually a ‘start-stop-continue’ meeting, where the team decides what to:
- start doing
- stop doing
- carry on doing
What’s ‘minimum viable product’?
The team doesn’t have to build the whole high level need at once. They can do it bit by bit, making sure that the stuff (technical term) that they build has the most value. When there’s enough stuff to push out to the end user then they can release it even if the complete high level need hasn’t yet been fully met.
What’s a Scrum board and how does it help?
While the sprint is running, the team can show the sprint backlog on a Scrum task board. Team members update the task board continuously throughout the sprint; if someone thinks of a new task, they’ll write up a new card and put it on the wall. Either during or before the daily stand-up, the team will change the estimates (up or down), and move cards around the board.
Working with the scrum team
Designing content for GOV.UK means making content that meets a user need. The agile approach works when everyone knows their roles. When you’re making agile content, it’s important to talk to the audience, get everyone to help with the creation process. Use the daily stand-up!
What the daily stand-up is not:
- a status or recording meeting
- for micromanagement
- only for the ScrumMaster
- a planning meeting
- a technical discussion
It is a chance to say what’s standing in your way, and to arrange a huddle for later, to get people involved.
I once heard a member of the government content community say that agile content isn’t a circular process, that it’s actually quite chaotic: researching, conceptualizing, and making all at the same time.
That pretty much sums it up: making agile content is about responding to feedback and iterating.
Peter is good with both people and technology, which makes him a great asset for any organisation. His communication skills and ability to translate complex technical jargon to plain english is his biggest strength…
Premkumar Lakshminarayanan, MBA, CSM Associate Director, Agile COE, Cognizant Technology solutions