Jeff's Blog

Musings about software development, Java, OO, agile, life, whatever.


Friday, January 25, 2008 
Stories and the Tedium of Iteration Planning Meetings

In "Tools, Iterations, and Stories," I said you should "focus on implementing and completing stories, not iterations. If your iteration is 10 days, and you have 10 stories of 1 point each, you should have delivered one story by the end of the first day, and two stories by the end of the second day, and so on."

Then, in a blog post titled "Stories and the Tedium of Daily Standups," I talked about how a focus on completing stories, not tasks and iterations, would make daily stand-ups interesting enough to bother with (anew--since many teams that initiate daily stand-ups often find them boring and thus slowly stop doing them).

There's another important side-effect of organizing an iteration around incrementally completing stories: Iteration planning meetings are more interesting.

Implicitly, to be able to complete stories as an iteration progresses requires team members to actually collaborate on a story. Imagine that. It's at the heart of the emphasis on continual communication in agile, yet many teams tend to miss this key point. In my next blog posting I'll talk about the side-effect of improved quality. For now, I'll restrict my thoughts to the impact of story planning on iteration planning meetings.

If an iteration planning covers four stories to be implemented by a team of four developers, there are two primary ways this meeting could go: 1) The customer details each story by focusing on each individual that will work it, or 2) The customer details all stories, discussing them with all four team members. The downside of option #2 is that it will probably take a little longer to work through all the stories. In fact, if you went with option #1, you really wouldn't need a team meeting. The customer could just meet individually with each developer.

Effectively, what you have with option #1 is a meeting in which 3 out of 4 developers have little interest in the story discussion at any given point in time. Information about other developers' stories is mental clutter, and consciously or subconsciously, each developer will tune out to some extent for 75% of the meeting. They will view iteration planning meetings as mostly a waste of time.

In contrast, option #2 requires everyone to be attentive. We all have to understand every story, and we most certainly have to start figuring out how each one breaks up. We probably need to do a little bit of design. People attending these sorts of iteration planning meetings are engaged. They leave the meeting with the impression that it held considerable value for them.


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