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How to Understand Stories Better

Improve Your Sprint Grooming Sessions

18 February 2014

Sudha Sivakumar
Altisource Business Solutions

Sprint planning meetings are often chaotic, with half-baked stories and lots of assumptions and clarifications left open. In such instances, the planning sessions are often hijacked and the estimates are given by the managers or architects. As a result, these sessions do not make the team self-organized, and we tend to follow Scrum-But rather than Scrum (conduct planning session -- Scrum -- but estimates are given by managers -- But).

Upon analysis, a few reasons for this could be lack of domain knowledge, a fairly new team, lack of managers' trust in the estimates of the team, and so on.

As kids, most of us have sketched a "mind map" as part of our homework activities. For example, food:

Mind map: Food groups

The teacher's intention was to make her students visualize the different food groups and represent them graphically.

Over the years, we seem to have forgotten what we learned as kids. During the sprint grooming sessions, the team could be prompted to draw a mind map of the story on the whiteboard. Example:

Mind map: Log-in functionality

Now let's look at the benefits of the mind map on stories:
  • A mind map can be used as a tool during the grooming session to arrive at the task-based estimates.
  • A mind map enables the team to visualize the requirement down to the lowest level.
  • The different actors and activities can be identified and designed.
  • The test cases can be derived from the mind map.
  • Stories can be split logically, with indicators such as "must have," "could have," and "nice to have."
  • The mind map helps identify dependencies and prompt the team to ask for clarifications.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.9 (9 ratings)


Anonymous, 2/20/2014 11:47:27 AM
This is really interesting. Will try this in the grooming session.
Poornaselvan Kittu Jeevanandam, CSP,CSM, 2/22/2014 11:16:59 AM
A story should not taken for consideration as a potential candidate for the upcoming Sprint, if it does not satisfy what we call "Definition of Ready"(DOR).

A team or enterprise can decide on what this "DOR" should be, based on the product/application being developed.

Simply put, DOR should indicate that a story is ready to be taken up for work (after being estimated during Sprint Planning meeting)

Would prefer actual estimation of the Story (story points) and tasks (hours)being done during the Sprint Planning mmeting
Balaji C R, CSM, 2/24/2014 6:19:29 AM
Mind Mapping is an excellent tool to clearly understand the user stories along with thinking in the line of any additional user stories which will pop up during thinking process, collating all the additional user stories will be ready for clarifications or can add up as a new user stories based on product owners directions
Ansar Kanhiroli, CSM,CSPO, 3/2/2014 9:58:55 PM
There a couple of things to note:*Sprint planning meetings are often chaotic, with half-baked stories and lots of assumptions and clarifications left open* - if this is the case then we should not be taking such stories to the planning; but yes, it's worth giving a shot if the team feels they can get to a CONFIRMATION on the acceptance criteria.

From the details above, I feel there is an inherent problem in the way the stories were written and Groomed (OLD BOOK)/REFINED (NEW BOOK). I would recommend to conduct a heavy analysis on the mechanism HOW a story is written and taken to the team.

The idea of Mindmapping is COOL, especially when you said that should be driven by the team - Great Point!
Badri Srinivasan, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/15/2014 12:57:44 PM
Hi Sudha,
Mind maps are quite helpful and you could also try effect maps much before the sprint planning session so that the requirements could be clearly delineated earlier.
Shane Poole, CSP,CSM, 3/17/2014 10:14:18 AM
Thanks for sharing your idea about using mind maps in backlog grooming to help with improving understanding. I will share with my team.

What are your thoughts about asking the Product Owner to attach a mind map to each story they submit for backlog grooming, to help with this process?
Lalita Chandel, CSP,CSM, 4/14/2014 4:07:41 AM
Is it something very similar to Story Mapping ?
Sudha Sivakumar, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/29/2014 12:20:28 AM
Asking the Product Owner to use mindmap for breaking down stories, explaining it to the team and attaching it along with the story would definetly help the team

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