As a product owner we should be building products to deliver on the Vision and a set of defined objectives or success criteria. But often our plan is not closely mapped to those criteria or it can be difficult to measure whether we have achieved our Vision or delivered on our objective.
Let’s change the way we write stories
So I wondered if we could expand on a desire for delivering measurable value by changing the way we both plan projects/product and write our user stories?
Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I will behave.
The notion of this is that rather than defining our User Stories in terms of behaviour, or actions or activities – in which we primarily focus on the ‘What’ we should change, our start point should become us defining the “needle we want to move” Let us start with the measurement of success. Understanding how we will be measured and identifying behaviour that impacts the measurement.
E.g. our goal is to increase the number of items per basket for online sales, our measurement is therefore the average number of items sold per transaction.
Equally it could be to increase the average value of the basket per transaction, or increase the number of units sold of high profit products
Hypothesis rather than Story
Our ‘story’ then would be to ask the Product Owner and Team to identify one or more hypothesis for ways that could impact that measurement. The notion being that a hypothesis must be tested before the story could be considered done.
This could take the form or a brainstorm session to identify the more traditional stories or it could simply be left for the team (in conjunction with the PO) to determine the best way (possibly two or three alternatives) to achieve the desired outcome after the story has been pulled.
This is building on the principle:
The best architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from self-organizing teams.
You could argue that this is already the role of the Product Owner and that the Product already does this, and in identifying and prioritizing stories they have already considered the impact. In some cases I would agree with you, in a few cases I have seen products or projects with clear objectives in terms of the goal of the product and even sometimes a measure of success in terms of measurable objectives.
I have yet to see the end goals mapped even at a high level to the stories and features, in most cases success criteria are wooly or undefined and more often than not the Product Owner and team will brainstorm stories (story mapping) without reference to the goals, and even Impact Mapping often will not extend to measurable goals.
That is not to say that the Product Owner is not considering this holistically, the measurements are generally part of the consideration but many stories creep in that have no material benefit or impact on the success criteria of the product.
Measurements for Goals as the basis for Story Mapping
For reference I love Story Mapping, I consider it my favourite tool for Product Ownership and have been known to rave a little too much about it on occasion.
The start point in story mapping is typically to identify themes of user activities (you could call them epics but don’t get hung up on terminology they are essentially big rocks and then we will progressively break them down in to smaller rocks arranged underneath the big rocks.
We can then prioritise the work in the context of the whole rather than being constrained by a linear backlog which makes the context difficult to visualise.
It is also a fantastic tool for explaining the product for release planning and forecasting and so on. Like I say one of my favourite tools.
But what if instead of starting with activities or big stories, what if we started with our measurable goals or success criteria. e.g. new subscribers per month, revenue per visit, time to achieve objective using application etc. And we then identify stories that best enable us to achieve that goal.
There may very well be some overlap so there maybe the notion of tagging a secondary objective, but imagine if this helps us weed out stories that are not taking us to our goal or have limited value in the context of our goal.
We would ask which of these stories has the potential to move the needle the most? and prioritise accordingly.
Make it measurable
Focusing our efforts on measurable impact to the product should implicitly be the goal of any Product Owner so why not make it our explicit goal?
I am an Agile coach, currently working for Asynchrony Labs in St Louis. I have 20 years experience in software development, working on projects in both the UK and the USA