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Don’t write great stories!

October 30, 2012

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Triggered by an earlier post on the Certified product owner group by Jeffery I started thinking about what defines great stories… That thought took a while when I discovered that there is no definition of a great stories. And, actually, thinking of improving stories is kind of all wrong.

I am sure we all experienced the situation where we walked out of the planning meeting thinking that for the next sprint planning we will have better and more detailed stories so the meeting will not take that much time. This is, I think, a mistake. It is not about the time the sprint planning takes. It is how the story is demo-ed! And of course, there are many things a PO could do to prepare the stories, but the goal should never be to minimize the time the sprint planning takes. If that is the case the PO will start to write more and more things the team could possibly ask, and that starts to look pretty much like an oldskool requirements document…

Another fundamental mistake for product owners is to see the story as their deliverable. And for some “story writers that call themselves product owner” it is the only deliverable on which their performance can be measured. If the product owner is not responsible from beginning till end, the story is the point where the responsibility is transferred. So by elaborating on the story, the blame is also transferred .

Many times single sentence stories have let to perfect result, but also many times I had to deal with teams that instantly got afraid for hidden requirements and say, without reading, that a single line cannot be enough. Actually almost the same when the PO only writes stories, the focus is on stories.

These two elements, lack of responsibility of the PO and the fear of blame of the team all exist for a long time. These are for sure the seeds that have given us nightmares called for example prince2. If the role of PO is clear and the PO takes his position stories do not count, results count. Of course stories are needed, and they have to be split up in a logically way, and in order to show the team that you take your work serious, they have to look good. But the result of the team counts, and if two words are enough to achieve that, that is great. But as a product owner you always need to know what you want and always be available for the team to elaborate on that.

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