Around the world, enterprises are adopting the concept of Agile development. This methodology is based on a set of principles for software development by which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of teams. User stories form the foundation of the Agile requirements process, and teams gather to create them by exploring how users will interact with their solutions. To facilitate planning and discussion, teams typically jot down stories on pieces of paper and then physically arrange and rearrange them. It is a curiously old-school process for such a forward-thinking method.
User stories are so vital because they give developers just enough information to estimate the level of effort needed to implement the functionality described by the story. When written well, they can be powerful, because they help developers and testers view requirements from a customer’s perspective. They provide context and an understanding of what motivates the people who will use the solutions they deliver.
Struggles with Stories
Agile represents a significantly different workflow than developers have previously used. As enterprises work to expand and mature their Agile practices across their projects and teams, they struggle to figure out how user stories fit, because:
- Developers and testers may prefer user stories over a lengthy, text-heavy business requirements document, but user stories are new to most business stakeholders and business analysts. As organizations try to transition to Agile, these individuals struggle to write high-quality user stories that accurately and sufficiently describe all customer needs. They get bogged down writing and managing them and lose focus on the bigger picture.
- The number of user stories can get out of hand quickly due to complexity. Most enterprise projects involve the development and enhancement of multiple, integrated systems to deliver functionality for a variety of roles. Users can take many paths that often interconnect and overlap with other processes. This can mean hundreds of user stories for a project of any size. Manually recording and managing the wealth of information that the development team needs is not feasible, and user stories can be missed or misinterpreted in the process.
- Critical nonfunctional requirements—such as those for compliance, security and performance—complicate the adoption of user stories because they weren’t designed to represent those types of requirements. User stories scribbled on sticky notes or created in an Excel spreadsheet don’t support the rigor enterprises need for audits, change management, history and traceability.
Enterprises want to reap the benefits of Agile for their complicated, expensive, high-risk projects, but they want to manage complexity and risk as well. They need a robust Agile requirements tool to help them, especially for the creation of reliable, consistent and high-quality user stories.
Making the Shift to an Agile Requirements Tool
Just as approaches to development have changed, so has the workplace, necessitating a new approach to teamwork. PricewaterhouseCoopers noted in its paper, “Adopting an Agile Methodology, Requirements Gathering and Delivery“: “As companies shift from small projects and teams engaged in Agile to more complex projects and potentially distributed teams, there is a need to shift from paper and spreadsheets to tools that provide workflow, persistence and traceability.”
The power of best-in-class requirements management tools is that they enable teams to use user stories for development while making it easier for business stakeholders and business analysts to create them. These tools eliminate the need to manually create user stories within the development teams’ Agile tools. They bridge the gap between traditional and Agile requirements, enabling enterprises to scale Agile while managing enterprise concerns.
The powerful capability sets of tools such as this help teams to:
- Generate high-quality user stories and tests automatically from process flows. Product owners and business analysts use customer journeys to automatically generate user stories and acceptance criteria with the click of a button. They push these artifacts into the development teams’ Agile management tool of choice, where developers and testers also have access to related requirements information, such as regulatory information, visual models and constraints, supporting a comprehensive understanding. User stories are reliable and consistent, and there is no longer a need to spend time and money to teach business stakeholders or business analysts to write them.
- Work together to visually define customer journeys. This allows stakeholders to “tell their stories” as they work with product owners and business analysts to collaboratively define customer journeys. Using the familiar construct of user models—with steps, decision points, actors and condition statements—the entire team collaborates to record and analyze processes in a shared workspace. Teams maintain a focus on strategic objectives when making prioritization decisions and spend less time managing a huge list of user stories manually.
- Reap the benefits of Agile while using enterprise-level capabilities for visualization, traceability and reuse. Support for visual models and the ability to relate them to one another and other requirements artifacts helps teams establish the precise traceability they need to ensure full requirements and test case coverage. It also supports improved change management and decision-making, ultimately leading to higher-quality software. Customer journey models can be reused across projects and teams, as can user stories and other requirements artifacts, saving time and improving consistency.
Great strides have been made in Agile requirements management tools recently, but many enterprises are still using sticky notes to create and organize their user stories because they don’t know about what these tools can do. A next-generation tool enables organizations to scale Agile across the business and create a common ground for IT and business to meet. With capabilities including visualization, collaboration, traceability, management analytics and reuse, teams are more effective and applications are delivered faster.
About the Author / Ruth Zive
Ruth Zive is Vice President of Marketing at Blueprint. She is a metrics-driven marketing strategist who has worked for two decades serving B2B clients in the technology, healthcare and financial services industries. At Blueprint, Ruth is responsible for product marketing, analyst relations, branding, demand generation and inside sales initiatives. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.