Question: Building user stories remotely…

Question: Hi Joe! Quick question – what have you found to be the best approach for creating user stories for the team members that are participating remotely? We have a release planning meeting for a group that has three team members in Connecticut and will be dialing in for the meeting. We have GoToMeeting and WebEx as options also. Thanks!

Answer:

I like to simplify and think of two parts.

(1) Initial Agile Release Planning, which is done in roughly one-day, upfront, as a Team plus business stakeholders.
(2) Every sprint, we have Release Plan Refactoring (aka product backlog grooming or backlog refinement).

For #1, I really think it makes things much better in the long term to get the team (that whole group) collocated.  Yes, it costs some money, but it pays real dividends.  Your firm really must do that.

Now, I can appreciate that you cannot get them to do that, always.  Or the people just won’t do it.  More on that a bit later.

For #2, I recommend 2 week sprints typically.  And if so, then 2 meetings per sprint to do RPR (release plan refactoring).

And I like to do RPR collocated if possible. But, justifying the time and cost of collocation is not as clear.  So, you might do it ‘remotely’ as we say.

I do not care much which ‘virtual meeting’ tool you use.  GoToMeeting, WebEx, and others are very good.  There are others… I don’t have a strong recommendation.  I do recommend that you get at least one person on the call who understands that product well, and knows how to use it well (can make it work quickly) and can explain it well.  And get that knowledge spread throughout the team quickly.

Then, I like to use a story tool.  Again, there are many.  Trello comes to mind.

What do you want?

1. The ability for anyone to write a story, without waiting in line.  This enables a volume of stories to be done in a small time box.

2. The ability for everyone to *see all the stories at the same time.”

3. The ability to re-arrange the stories (in multiple ways) to see patterns and relationships in the stories.  (Examples: ‘all stories in one module’, parent-child, ‘connected’, same role, same department, business flow, etc, etc.)  This visual thinking often leads to more creativity.

I think Trello enables all 3 of these.  Probably other tools do too.  Certainly a physical board can support this.

I would use brainstorming rules for a good while.  Meaning: ‘any idea is a good idea; no criticism until later; we need a pile of stuff to work with.’

Related to this, identify to the participants what your goals are.  They include: a pile of stories (volume in a time box), clarity of the stories (although they may be rough at first and clarity may be added later), completeness (of the stories, given the time box), inventiveness or innovation (something unexpected), learning across all team members, etc, etc.

How big a time box for this round?  Well, you did not give me much to go on, but if 6 months of work, then I will guess 30 minutes for this round.  Maybe extend to 45 minutes if everyone says they need it.  Set the outer boundary at 1 hour.

Does that help?

 

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