Scrum • 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…