Business Analysis • Xeynergy

Use of Documentation in Complex Agile Environments 

“Working software over comprehensive documentation” has been prescribed in the Agile Manifesto as a philosophy to make decisions on what level of documentation should be established. However we often come across hybrid environments where the business teams require a high degree of clarity on the deliverables while the agile development teams prefer brief and precise instructions on what needs to be built. Product Owners and Managers have a role to play in managing expectations of each category of stakeholders and ensure that nothing is “lost in translation”. 

Most of the business users and end customers are very comfortable and familiar with the comprehensive documentation that they are used to: Business Requirements Document (BRD) ,Software Requirements Specification (SRS),Statement of Work (SOW) etc. However documentation is an important part of every system, Agile or otherwise, but comprehensive documentation as such does not always ensure product success. Given the fact that these are all-inclusive, monolithic business documents in which usually covers work of many weeks or months and decomposing it into smaller, independent requirements and solutioning upfront becomes very challenging when it comes to an iterative software development process. 

When it comes to an Agile environment we should find the right balance between documentations, discussion and what to share with and with whom.It should be done and shared with the relevant audience in a just-in-time (JIT) manner. 

Agile manifesto values “working software over comprehensive documentation”. This asks us to think about how much and which kinds of documents are needed and when they need to be written.But that doesn’t mean documentation can be done away with entirely; it’s necessary for teams to function. But it does suggest that minimizing documentation is a wise thing to do because creating a comprehensive spec for software development implies that all best solutions are known upfront. Here we are not just talking about a holistic approach into the solution, here we need to have everything solutioned and this task can be a little overwhelming for the scrum team as they need to take care of both the requirements specification and then the product backlog user stories. 

When working with the scrum team, Product Backlog has to be the single source of truth. The Scrum team should not get involved in referring business documentation as a practice. Nevertheless it is not a good practice to have so many dependencies at the document levels as it can be very convoluted. 

Between the Product Owner and customers communication still takes place in the form of documents or any sort of formal documentation. Product Owner continues to live in the waterfall world with their customers, by accepting requirements from them in the form of heavy static, conclusive documentations. 

It’s the product owner’s responsibility to decompose heavy requirements documents into small independent chunks of work (user stories) to feed a backlog and get the acceptance from the scrum team in order to get the release/sprint commitments to inform the stakeholders. This is usually done in a silo, without the scrum team’s involvement. 

Here is a diagrammatic view of the approach that I am suggesting. 

Do we need to pertain to business sign-off in agile ? 

Why not! Agile tells us to “embrace change” but the concept of change only exists with respect to a reference point. Although some Agile thinkers agree that “there is no sign-off” in Agile methodology, the practice of requiring product owners and clients to sign off on requirements and delivered work products persists in Agile settings.Even within a team where there is close communication, people can have different interpretations of current plans and status. 

We intend to believe sign-off as some sort of contract, which definitely goes against the Agile grain. However, if you consider obtaining a sign-off as a small act of acknowledging that “You want to reach some destination’’ I think it’s fine. Just because “We have all the resources to move” today doesn’t mean we get to the correct destination but at least we can ensure a common understanding and point of reference as to where we should reach and by when. Having said that, this might depend on the businesses too. While some businesses would like to co-create with the development organizations, other businesses would require crystal clarity of what success looks like. It is a responsibility of the agile leadership to convince the benefits of co-creation to the business. 

It must be mentioned that there is no exact science in deciding what level of documentation is required. The agile leadership should make decisions considering the nature of the operating environment and really focus on the purpose the documentation is expected to deliver in the particular context. The utopian state is that all stakeholders agree on high level goals and work together to continuously review and improve solutions inline with the set goals, in which case there is limited reliance on documentation. 


Manifesto for Agile Software Development 

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. These are our values and… 

Writing Effective User Stories 

What is a User Story? 

We can define a user story as the short and simple description of a functionality used in Agile practice. Basically, they are written to capture the requirement from the customer or the end user perspective. It will simply say What type of users, What they want and Why they want it. The user stories should be written in a language where it is very clear to both customer and the scrum team “as to what the customer wants and why they want it and what kind of customer wants it”. 

Scrum teams should understand the customer needs and they should take care of how to cater the requirement from technical perspective.To take care of the technicality or back end functionalities they sometimes have technical user stories as well. 

Basic Functionality 

Now will look into the user story structure and understand what are the important things we should include in it. 

User Story 

This is the sample template that we are widely using when it comes to user stories.Use the template when it is helpful, but don’t feel obliged to always apply it. Experiment with different ways to write your stories to understand what works best for you and your team. 




Acceptance Criteria 

Also as a PO or Proxy PO you need to make sure to write the acceptance criteria in order to accept the story. This is something very important and this will help your QA team a lot when they write test scenarios and test cases. 

Definition of Done 

Many organizations use this method in different ways. Some have DOD user story wise and some have DOD by release wise. It’s up to you to select the best method which suits your company but I prefer this using release wise rather story wise because ideally DOD cannot change story to story. But in a nutshell here you have to mention what are the important items to be completed before sending it for the UAT (User Acceptance Testing)or Customer demonstration. 

Now will take an example scenario and see how we can develop a user story around it. 

Assume that a customer with an online web-store wants their buyers to use credit card options to buy items. In this case I have treated the“Buyer” as the end user/customer but you can write this treating “Web-store owner” as the end user/customer. 

User Story 

As an online buyer  
I want to use my credit card to purchase an item  
So that I can immediately purchase my item from the web-store 

If you want to write this treating “Web-store owner” as the endures then most probably the user story will look like this 

As a web-store owner 
I want my buyers to use their credit card option to purchase items 
So that I can immediately do the transaction 

Acceptance Criteria 

· Accept Visa and Master cards 

· Validate customer card details (Card Number, Name, CVV, and Expiration Date) 

· Amount confirmation from the buyer 

· Generate success or error messages 

Definition of Done 

· Unit test case completion 100% 

· Test coverage completion 100% 

· QA sign-off 

· PO/BA sign-off 

That’s a simple example of how to write a user story.Based on my experience of working with user stories for nearly 6 years I can say, Its very easy to write them but we should know the correct methods and tips to write an effective user stories. 

Tips for writing effective and good user stories 

A very well written user story will meet the criteria of Bill Wake’s INVEST acronym 

Bill Wake’s INVEST acronym 

Also remember the below points which I am sure will come in handy when writing user stories 

  • Think from user perspective 

Rule #1 and the very important one. 

As the name implies user story has to explain in ‘end user’ perspective. If you don’t understand the user requirement as to what they want and why they want, then you have to do your homework first. 

  • Make your story Simple and Concise 

This is one of the important things which you have to understand. User story should be short and concise and should not have any ambiguity in it. 

  • Acceptance Criteria 

Always remember to write acceptance criteria so that team is aware of your expectations 

  • Discuss your stories with the teams 

This is one of the methods which I personally prefer. You have to make the stories visible to the team and you should always make it as a practice to discuss it with the technical team. Before going into grooming sessions make sure that the team is aware the depth of the user stories. In this way you can save more time in your grooming sessions. 

  • Don’t hesitate to add NOTES 

If you have more information which you want the team to know, always make a note in there so that the teams can understand the user story in more detailed way. 

  • Keep the UIs aligned with user stories 

If you are doing a requirement related to a front-end functionality then it’s better to have the relevant UI attached to it. That way the teams can easily understand what should be the outcome. 

These are the few steps you have to keep in mind when you want to write a effective user story.😎 

What are the best agile practices to follow as Business Analysts or Product Owners?

When we think of writing about some best practices to follow, according to me the most effective way of bringing that into words would be based on our experiences. So I thought of writing this articles based on the experience I have gained working as Business Analyst/Product Owner. 

In the early stage of course based on the narrow knowledge I had on Agile I was not very keen on practicing it until I got the real taste of it. Agile practices and business analysis actually go hand in hand and deliver remarkable values to company when they leverage efficiently and effectively. 

I am not going to explain why we need business analysts in agile because that’s not what this article is about. Now let’s start looking at what we can do to make the entire process efficient and effective to all team members by using agile principles. 

I hope you all are familiar with the term Agile and we can easily put it as “building a software incrementally, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end”. That’s simply what Agile means. 

Scrum is one of the subsets of the agile methodology and the most widely used framework process in agile development. (A “process framework” is a particular set of practices that must be followed in order for a process to be consistent with the framework. (For example, the Scrum process framework requires the use of development cycles called Sprints) 

Listed below are the good practices which you can do as a Business Analyst or as a Product Owner to improve the entire business process using Agile 

1. Plan your Sprint at least one week in advance 

Trust me this helps a lot. As a business analyst or a product owner you have to own the backlog or you have to take the ownership of maintaining the backlog. You can definitely work closely with the scrum master (Scrum master is the facilitator in the scrum or the agile development) to plan the sprint ahead. Don’t wait till the last moment to plan the sprint. Make sure you have enough user stories prepared (groomed) to the sprint so that you can get the full Velocity out of the development team. It’s not a good practice to take user stories in the middle of the sprint. 

2. User Story Review Board (USRB) 

Have a requirement walk-through session (User Story Review Session) with the development and QA teams prior to the backlog grooming session. (Backlog grooming session is the place where we can get estimates to the user stories). This is also a very important practice to follow and I personally do this with my teams all the time. Goal is to have a requirement walk-through with the team (Dev/QA) and get their inputs. In this way we can reduce the ambiguity and the concerns technical team is having which can be a great help when it comes to the backlog grooming sessions. Remember as BAs/POs you have to have an open mind as well as you should be ready to justify your requirements or your solutions to the team. If the team feels that you are not confident with your requirement or solution then they are not going to listen to you. Don’t forget to take notes and document all the inputs and suggestions so that you won’t forget that after the meeting. 

3. Plan the backlog grooming session very well 

Now for this you have to be prepared! 😎 

Typically this is the place where the BAs get so many questions. That’s why I told you to have a requirement walk-through session (USRB) before the grooming and so that we can get fewer questions from the technical teams at the grooming session which will help you to save your time and have a productive grooming session. Before the session make sure you send the user stories to the teams or update in your agile tool (I use JIRA) so that technical teams are aware of what is going to get discussed. 

You can get help from the scrum master to track the efforts at user story levels and make sure to update the story points then and there. One of the biggest mistakes that most of the BAs/POs are doing which you should avoid in my personal opinion is to ‘Challenge the effort’ of user stories. This can cause several issues and damaging the trust between you and the team is the biggest impact. Always trust your team and they will trust you back and I am telling this using my personal experience. 

4. Have small scrum teams 

It’s a main part of the agile scrum process that we do have a daily update meetings as in ‘Daily Stand-ups’ with the team. I highly recommend not having larger teams as your scrum teams. Talk with your scrum master and have a small team (maximum 6 members). Daily stand up meetings are supposed to be maximum of 7–8 min of your time. But what happens if you have a larger group like 15- 20. Then it will take more than 15 minutes to have the meeting and trust me you don’t want that. So make it simple. Have a small team and just give the update as “What I did yesterday and what I’m planning for today and any blockers for my work. That’s it Easy peasy lemon squeezy 😁 

5. Don’t forget about “Sprint Review” session 

After every sprint there has to be a sprint review session where the team members are demonstrating what they did during the last sprint. Trust me this is very important as BAs/POs because this is the place where developers showcase the user stories they implemented and if you have any concerns on how the requirement has implemented raise your hand and point it out. It could be a simple question you have or it could be something developer has improvised. Then and there ask the questions and sort it out and appreciate their work. 

6. Finally the Retrospective 

This is the place where the team members can voice their concerns or suggestion to be heard. Once in every 3 sprint (there is no hard and fast rule for that) you can have a session and discuss What went right, What went wrong and What are the improvements to be made for the scrum. 

I hope you find this article as productive. So basically these are the best practices which I can point out when it comes to the practical world.