Lessons in Scrum/Agile development

One scrummy problem

This week I got a crash-course in Scrum – a development mentality that involves breaking down the normal product development cycle into smaller, bite-sized pieces that you complete in “sprints” of one or two weeks. The idea is that you can iterate new features in and out more quickly and get feedback on each feature as it’s put into an active environment where stakeholders can be hands on with it.

My main role as a product developer is to create user stories that we then create into tasks for developers. It seems simple enough. “As a user, I want to…” and then you fill in what you want the software to do. As a user, I want to take a picture of a cute cat and put some misspelled words on it that enhance the picture so I can be part of my friends’ lolcats club. 

I had some old requirements for the project and worked with our Usability Expert to throw them into stories. We quickly wrote three stories based on the requirements we both had, and then came to a stop. We kept using the phrase “As a user, I want” as a preface for each story, and in doing so, we realized that the requirements that were written up already weren’t actually going to be clear to a user. In fact, the requirements, though well thought out and good, were missing key pieces of information that would have otherwise been left for developers to figure out, without any input from a client or the product development team.

In other words, I spent months and months putting together requirements based on feedback from clients, sales reps and customer support; and in the course of 30 minutes of creating user stories, we found glaring holes in the requirements.

After a couple minutes of trying to figure out what to do next, we started over. We took the ideas that we had from the requirements, and verbalized each user story in the order that a user would interact with our product. As we said each story, we white-boarded what the UI would look like. After 40 minutes, we had a new process and requirements. The workflow became more intuitive. It became more flexible. And it simply got better.

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