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Agile Has Soul!

Compairng the storytelling of rap music with the user stories of Agile

7 December 2017

I like rap music. Being in New York since rap music’s infancy (think “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang), rap music was a part of my past, and it shapes my present and future. There were many great rappers who made the skill of storytelling seam so easy (if I can name just a few: KRS-O.N.E, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G.).

What I liked most about rap music back in the day were the stories the MCs told between the bass and the treble of the music being played. As I listened to the stories unfold in each song, I was taken away to the scene they described. To me, a good rhyme was one that made sense; in other words, there was a beginning, a middle, and an end. The rappers who did it well had the “staying power.” Rappers like Salt-n-Pepa, Jay-Z, Slick Rick, and Doug E. Fresh went on to rap for years. In my opinion, the staying power was because the stories in their rap music were understandable and relatable. There was a close to the story.

Today, I am a ScrumMaster/product owner. Although I can’t rhyme like my legendary rap heroes, I find myself in a position whereby I have to define stories that are understandable, relatable, and have an ending. I imagine that creating a good user story is a lot like creating an old-school rap. To tell a “story” successfully, you have to understand what your audience (customer) wants (what the listener wants to hear/what the stakeholder wants to deliver).

Both industries must also understand the goal and what it takes to get to the conclusion. The rapper has to engage the audience in a story that can be repeated with ease. To me, rap songs like Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” or Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” exemplify those characteristics (if you have never listened to those raps, I encourage you to do so). To get expected results, product owners must create good user stories that the development team can understand. User stories that combine empathy for the user with the execution of the delivery bring perfect harmony to a project (pun intended).

The best part of a good rap is the “wrap-up” — how every part of the story comes to an end. Listeners can understand the role every character in the story played, without having to explain anything.

A ceremony can be characterized as a wrap-up, too. Each part of the sprint played its own part in the project to make it complete.

As I reminisce over the rap music my friends and I listened to (which reminds me of another great rap, “T.R.O.Y.,” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth), I realized that I have participated in retrospectives most of my life. After we listened to the rap, we would analyze the story to determine what was good about it and what could have been different or better. Those memories remind me of the retrospectives I participate in today. Whether I am a ScrumMaster or a product owner, our team takes time to find out how we can keep our delivery tight.

I still listen to rap music. While I can appreciate some of the talented rappers of today, like Drake, Migos, and Future, I always return to my old-school rap for some really good storytelling in the music (thanks, Sirius XM!).

If I look back, I guess rap music was “grooming” me to be a good ScrumMaster and product owner.

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

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Louise Penberthy, CSM, 12/11/2017 11:20:30 AM
Nice article! I'm going to look for “Rapper’s Delight” and “Children’s Story”.

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