Tag Archives: collaborative requirements

Product Backlog Refinement in SCRUM

16 Jun

Within the Scrum Framework – there are numerous GASPs (Generally Accepted Scrum Practices). The following 4 meetings are all GASPs:

• Sprint Planning
• Daily Stand-up
• Show and Tell/Sprint Review
• Sprint Retrospective

There have been efforts to include a 5th meeting to the list of GASPs:

• Product Backlog Refinement (PBR session)

AIM OF THE PBR SESSION
The overall aim of this meeting is to manage the product inventory and ensure that the product backlog (i.e. anything outside of a Sprint) is up-to-date. This is done through the following PBR activities:

I) Refinement:
• Progressively breaking down large items (EPICs) into smaller items (features/use cases etc) that can be implemented in a single Sprint
• Grouping items based on commonality (technical delivery/product goal etc)
• Adding detail – such as acceptance criteria – to items in order to generate a common understanding

II) Estimation:
• Pre-Sprint, high-level estimation of items in the product backlog will facilitate delivery planning
• Methods include – story point estimation (e.g. planning poker on the Fibonacci sequence), t-shirt sizes, bucket estimation, blink estimation

III) Prioritisation:
• Items are prioritised according to business value (this is primarily identified by the Product Owner/stakeholders/user data)
• Items are independent as per the INVEST criteria – therefore the order of items on the product backlog leads to a prioritised Sprint backlog

IV) “Ready” state:
• Items are discussed – with issues/questions/actions being identified
• Agreement on what needs to be done in order to get items into “Ready for development”/”Ready for Sprint”

V) Communication:
• Team understands the bigger picture – i.e. the vision beyond the current Sprint

VI) Ideation:
• New, high-level user stories are discussed and added to the Product Backlog
• Bringing together members of the business and technical team to discuss ideation facilitates collaborative product development within a cross-functional team

GENERAL FORMAT OF THE PBR SESSION
I) Timing:
• Regular – product priorities/understandings are dynamic. The product backlog must therefore be responsive to change. It is recommended that PBR sessions are held every Sprint or 2
• Scheduled – Typically mid Sprint in order to avoid conflict with the Sprint Planning/Show and Tell/Retrospectives
• Duration – Timeboxed – typically to 1.5 – 2 hours

II) Participants:
• The Product Owner is primarily responsible for the Product Backlog. The Scrum Master is responsible for facilitation and the removal of obstacles. Attendance of both is therefore mandatory
• Team members – invited – however attendance is optional. Details of which stories will be discussed in the session should be provided in advance (this enables users to decide whether or not to attend)
• Small number of stakeholders can be invited to assist with prioritisation. Representation from both the business and technical team is preferred

III) Agenda:
• The entire product backlog is not discussed. Instead the agenda should cover items that are likely to come up in the next 3-4 Sprints
• The session should aim to achieve the following:
•• Agreement on story breakdown/high level definition
•• High-level estimation
•• Item prioritisation
•• Agreement on actions necessary to get items into a “Ready” state
•• Discussion of any new ideas
• At a high level – the aim of the PBR session is to ensure that items in the Product Backlog meet the DEEP criteria (Detailed Appropriately, Estimated, Emergent and Prioritised)

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Applying Agile principles to requirement analysis

23 May

Background

The Agile methodology originated within the software development industry. Since its inception in 2001 – Agile has expanded beyond an initial developer-centric community – to being embraced by multi-discipline teams working across numerous industries.

The antecedent of Agile within IT was the Waterfall methodology. The Waterfall framework consisted of a series of sequential, discrete phases – with each phase conveniently mapped to a role/responsibly:

Analysis Phase             -> Requirement Analysis (Business Analysts/Product Owners)

Design Phase                -> UX (Designers/Usability Experts)

Development Phase  -> Software Development (Developers)

Testing Phase               -> QA (Manual Testers and Developers in Test)

Delivery Phase             -> Release Management (Project Managers)

Due to the increasing popularity of Agile – requirement analysis has been encouraged to transition from being a stand-alone phase owned by BAs/POs – to become a project facet that can incorporate Agile principles.

In what ways can requirement analysis adopt Agile principles?

Collaborative requirement analysis

Prior to Agile – the practice of the development team being presented with an upfront, non-negotiable, detailed requirements document (BRD/functional specification etc) was common. With the advent of Agile – requirement analysis should no longer be restricted to the interaction between BAs/POs and the business – instead we should embrace collaborative requirement analysis:

A popular collaborative requirement technique is the “3 Amigos”.  This process involves the developer, BA and QA discussing the requirement specification in a workshop. Each Amigo will offer a unique perspective – through discussions the Amigos will identify edge cases, undefined requirements, opportunities and potential reuse. The 3 Amigos technique can also reduce the risk of incomplete features being pushed into development by the product team – requirement specifications must be pulled into development when they have been reviewed and accepted by the 3 Amigos.

Collaborative requirement analysis facilitates a project-wide sense of ownership – and also communicates a common understanding of what features need to be built. Collaborative requirement analysis produces more robust specifications – and reduces the role-based silos that can exist on projects.

Detail as an emergent property

Agile artefacts such as technical spikes and development iterations mean that high-level requirements can be considered sufficient at project initiation. Low fidelity requirement assets (e.g. user stories /”back of the napkin” designs) should be employed on Agile projects:

Just-in-time requirements analysis (JITRA) has a concept that requirements should only be specified at the level of detail required for upcoming development. JITRA states that the further in advance of development requirements are defined – the more probable that requirements will become out of date, leading to rework and wasted effort.

Detail should emerge when it is required – which is typically towards the middle/end of the project lifecycle. Initial requirement analysis should be focussed on business justification and solution scope.

Embrace change

Specifications will evolve throughout the project lifecycle; all team members must acknowledge the benefit of responding to change. Adapting to changes in circumstances/urgency/understanding is crucial – requirement analysis should be considered an iterative rather than exhaustive process:

In terms of systems theory – project teams should be viewed as open systems. As the system will tend towards a steady state – change should be encouraged and communicated at an organisational level. Regular priority sessions, stakeholder workshops and competitor reviews should be used to mitigate resistance to change.

Incorporating feedback is crucial to the success of a project. Requirements are not unchangeable statements – they only reflect the current and expected situation, both of which are liable to change.

Necessary documentation

The adoption of Agile principles does not mean that requirements should not be documented. Requirement documentation is vital for developers, QA and the business stakeholders:

The principle of living documentation should be embraced. This means that all documentation needs to be accessible and up-to date. Business users, developers and QA should be able to request requirement changes. Documentation is most valuable when it is understandable by all team members, available and responsive to change.

Lightweight documentation such as feature files and high level process maps summarise the output of the requirement analysis process. The Agile methodology encourages appropriate documentation – superfluous detail is wasted effort; Agile does not negate documentation.

Continuous process improvement

Requirement processes should not be viewed as immovable obstacles. Instead these processes should evolve and adapt to meet the needs of the project. Where a process or artefact ceases to produce the expected value –it should be reviewed and changed by a self-organising team:

Retrospectives are a popular technique for identifying improvement opportunities. Team members meet to discuss what the team needs start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. Regular (every 2/3 weeks) and actionable retrospectives provide an open forum for continuous process improvement.

Requirement analysis processes (to-be-analysis, process mapping, stakeholder workshops etc) can always be improved. A technique that is effective for one team – may not be effective for another – or at least may require several modifications.

Continuous delivery

The Agile methodology promotes product iterations and regular releases. In order to align with this ethos, requirement analysis must produce a constant output – a steady flow of requirements will avoid the “big bang” requirement delivery that characterised the Waterfall methodology:

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) provides the scope of requirement analysis. The MVP will be delivered in multiple iterations – requirement analysis must be constantly baselined against the MVP and ensure that there is a sufficient specification available for each delivery.

Shorter delivery timescales encourages more frequent requirement analysis output. Specifications should be aligned to the MVP – features need to be deliverable and contribute to the MVP vision.

Conclusion

Iterative, collaborative Agile development has replaced the sequential Waterfall development methodology. Prior to Agile – the product team could hand over a list of detailed requirements – which would then be used by developers to build the product. In order to align requirement analysis with Agile development practices – the following principles need to be applied: requirement collaboration, iterative specifications, embracing change, necessary documentation, continuous improvement and continuous delivery. By adopting these principles requirement analysis will transition into the Agile world, produce better specifications and ultimately lead to greater quality products.

The 3 Amigos – BA, QA and Developer

7 Feb

The 3 Amigos (sometimes referred to as a “Specification Workshop”) is a meeting where the Business Analyst presents requirements and test scenarios (collectively called a “feature”) for review by a member of the development team and a member of the quality assurance team. The overall aims are to ensure:

i)              COLLABORATIVE REQUIREMENTS: a common understanding of what needs to be built, business justification is conveyed for a feature, a project-wide sense of ownership.

ii)             COLLABORATIVE TESTS: all teams members contribute to testing the quality of a feature, business & technical edge cases are identifed, testing restrictions are conveyed, test duplication within the team is reduced.

iii)           READY FOR DEV CONSENSUS: Pull vs Push approach – features are pulled into a Sprint when they have been reviewed and accepted by the 3 Amigos. Features cannot be pushed into a Sprint – this reduces the risk of the team incorrectly assuming that a feature is ready for dev.

The general format of the 3 Amigo process is:

  •  A time boxed meeting (30 mins – 1 hrs max) is setup 1-2 Sprints before a feature is expected to go into development.
  • 1 Developer + 1 QA are identified and invited to the meeting. These are expected to be the individuals who will develop and test that feature.
  • The Business Analyst begins the meeting by introducing the feature to the Amigos. Why is the feature needed, is it like anything they’ve done before, what should it look like on the site?
  • The Business Analyst presents the requirements (prepared prior to the 3 Amigos) – these are reviewed by the Amigos who provide feedback. The requirements should be updated in the session until the requirements are deemed “Ready for Dev”.
  • The Business Analyst will then present the test scenarios (prepared before the meeting) – these are also reviewed by the Amigos. Feedback is incorporated until it is agreed that the test scenarios cover the feature’s expected behavior – this ensures good test coverage.
  • The feature/specification is now “Ready for Dev” – it has been accepted by the developer and QA.
  • Developer – asked to identify any tasks that need to be done pre-development e.g. do they need access to an endpoint, do they need to see variants of the visual design? These tasks are assigned and put on the current Sprint board.
  • QA – asked to identify any tasks that need to be done pre-feature testing e.g. do they require access to a system, do they need mock data? These tasks are assigned and put on the current Sprint board.
  • Estimate: the Amigos should have a common understanding of the requirements and the test scenarios (the “feature”). This is a good opportunity for the developer and QA to provide estimates.

Lessons we have learnt:

  • The developer and QA involved in the 3 Amigo meeting should be the individuals who will develop and test the feature. We have explored the idea of “any developer/QA can be involved in the 3 Amigos and any developer/QA can then pickup the feature” – however we have learnt that maximum benefit comes from the Amigos being involved in a feature until its completion.
  • The requirements and test scenarios should be maintained in a place where everyone has access. This gives individuals/stakeholders (even non-Amigos) VISIBILITY of the requirements and tests.
  • What language should be used for requirements and test scenarios? Technical? Business? Plain English? We have found that DOMAIN language is the most useful … if you work in banking than all 3 Amigos should know what a derivative is – but not everyone is expected to know what a cron job is. If in doubt – maintain a glossary of terms.

Challenges:

  • For the BA: although the BA still tacitly “owns” the requirements – part of the collaborative 3 Amigo process is a shared level of ownership. This can be difficult for a BA – as requirements are one of the main BA deliverables.
  • For the Developer: there may be some resistance to reviewing requirements/test scenarios as these are “non–development activities”. In our experience the 3 Amigos process enables the developer to have greater visibility of the requirements, provide technical feedback and convey challenges/blockers.
  • For the QA: similar to the BA – they may need time to adjust to the test scenarios being under common ownership.
  • For the Product Owner: the Product Owner isn’t an Amigo. The process assumes that the BA represents the Product Owner/stakeholders. Once the requirements and test scenarios have been through the 3 Amigo process– it can be worth re-confirming them with stakeholders.
  • For the PM: the 3 Amigo process limits what a PM can put into a Sprint – features are pulled into a Sprint by the team and not pushed by the PM. The BA can begin to take on some traditional PM duties: task breakdown (tasks are identified in the 3 Amigos), estimations (developer + QA estimates are provided in the 3 Amigos), limited Sprint planning etc.
  • For the Agile enthusiast: to be a fully iterative process there may be “pre amigo” meetings – and complex features may require several sessions.