User Stories as Lean

User stories are a useful and well established agile tool. Could they also be thought of as a lean tool?

Definition

We’re not going to do what’s been done a million times. If you aren’t familiar with stories, check this out. For more information, google it.

How Stories Support Agile

By avoiding the “how”, the story does a few things:

Stories invite a conversation.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

That conversation can be had only once the story is prioritized high enough. This means there are a lot of conversations we’re not having (work we’re not doing).

10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

Analysts and product owners largely wait for the conversation rather than trying to build a full queue to keep engineers busy. This lets them stay in the here-and-now and focus on what’s needed today rather than on what might be needed tomorrow. This helps everyone focus on delivering now.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

This keeps everyone focused on what really matters (software for the client) rather than building a big backlog.

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

If written very well, stories allow us to execute the backlog in an arbitrary order. This leaves the order completely up to customer desires every sprint.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

We avoid having upstream stakeholders designing the solution.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Once we’re ready to act on the story, we can bring the team and client together to solve the most important problem of the day, today.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

All told, a story is a great way of bringing an agile mindset to your backlog.

How Stories Support Lean

By avoiding the “how”, the story does a few things:

It invites a conversation. By relying on a face to face conversation, we minimize the number of times people are going into documents and work tracking systems. By reducing these transactions (inefficient knowledge transfers), we eliminate a lot of waste from our process.

Reduce Transport Waste

That conversation can be had only once the story is prioritized high enough. This means there are a lot of conversations we’re not having (work we’re not doing). By not having these redundant conversations, we eliminate decisions that will be rendered obsolete (or forgotten) as changes continue to unfold.

Reduce Motion Waste

Analysts and product owners largely wait for the conversation rather than trying to build a full queue to keep engineers busy. This lets them stay in the here-and-now and focus on what’s needed today rather than on what might be needed tomorrow. They avoid just keeping themselves busy trying to keep other people busy.

Reduce Over Production

This keeps everyone focused on what really matters (software for the client) rather than building a big backlog. By not building that big backlog of documents, we have much less knowledge waiting for action.

Reduce Inventory

Just in Time

If written very well, stories allow us to execute the backlog in an arbitrary order. This leaves the order completely up to customer desires every sprint. This makes it possible for us to deliver exactly what’s needed as close to the need as possible. This quick feedback loop helps make sure that we’re doing only what’s necessary today. If we’re wrong, the quick feedback makes sure we don’t invest too much time into something that our client doesn’t need (or needs very little of).

Reduce Over Processing

We avoid having upstream stakeholders designing the solution. This means we can bring in the valuable perspective of those doing the engineering into the solution creation process. This taps into the talents and training of the entire team to make sure we pursue the best (and most minimal) solution rather than the best solution that one person could think of.

Maximizes human creativity

Once we’re ready to act on the story, we can bring the team and client together to solve the most important problem of the day, today. It’s important for teams to recognize that they are not the client. The client is the client. When it’s time for the conversations about how to implement a solution, that’s the time to bring the client into that conversation to make sure it fits the need with the least amount of work. This can mean a conversation, or it can mean going to where the software is used and truly understanding the need that is driving the story rather than just the request itself.

Genchi Genbutsu

All told, a story is a great way of bringing lean to your backlog.

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