Focus Stories – Is Your Story Big Enough for the work you are doing?

Odd Question, isn’t it.  We spend all this time focusing on getting the story to be the right size, chiseling away on the ones that are too big to fit in a release, and so on.  Then we turn around and fight the good fight when Scrum and Agile scales up and we are faced with keeping multiple teams working in peace, harmony and synchronicity.  It is this last problem that I keep on dealing with, particularly when trying to introduce Agile QA.  I got so frustrated that I took Jim Highsmith’s advice about “more being written about Agile than is known”, stopped reading Agile and read other things – like the Harry Potter series and 20th century history.  It is here I re-read the words that on May 25, 1961, changed a generation’s life. President John F. Kennedy said in his, “Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs,” before a joint session of Congress.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

It struck me it was ‘the’ perfect story. It has a role, action that had to be taken, and a goal.  But most of all it had a very tangible, clear, and explicitly well defined definition of DONE – “returning him safely to the earth.” What a story!  What an Epic! What a way to get a nation – a world – to focus.   But it wasn’t a user story – it had this timeboxing clause,”before this decade is out,” that started the clock ticking.

I refer to it as a Focus Story. It serves as the transforming agent changing a poetic visiony user story into a ‘Mission Statement” and a Commander’s Intent”. With it in place, at the top of Product Vision, enough guide rails are in place to make reasonable initial roadmaps, release plans, prioritization criteria, and definitions of done.  But most of all we have a means to understand core values criteria “safely to the earth”.

We also have triggers to inform us when we are losing focus –  Meetings get longer, Done isn’t understood. Pieces don’t fit and the conventional mindset you have been struggling to win over sighs and goes back to its safe place of waiting for the fad to die.  When these show up it is time to revisit the focus story and build a bigger focus or wrap up what you are doing.  Otherwise you risk having “O”rings show up on your Columbia launch.  Nobody wants to be part of that type of bad day.