Revolution – Evolution of a story wall

Everyone who knows or was close to Agile Software Development knows something about Story Wall. If by any chance you don’t, here goes.

Tell me the Story

Story is software requirement/feature/pice of functionality that is presented in story telling way. For example:
‘Given that I am a new user,
When I arrive at xxx site home page and I click Register button
I will see the registration form so I can register and use the awesome site’

This is just one way of story formating and wording. As many people and teams as there are, wording can take different shape.

For the purpose of the Wall we would normally have stories written on a index card in a bit shorter form with reference to more verbose version. The more verbose version contains acceptance criteria (we are using Mingle most of the time for that purpose).

The Wall

The wall is a physical place where we stick our story cards. Wall is a visual dashboard. It gives every team member current state of an iteration.

Wall is usually split into columns that indicates what is the current state of the story. A wall will usually have columns like:

  • In Analysis
  • Ready for Development
  • In Development
  • Ready for QA
  • In QA
  • Ready for Sign-off
  • Finished
  • Blocked (the infamous one)

This is a very typical wall setup. I worked with this shape of wall on many projects I was on. It is quite good, gives all important feedback through entire life cycle of a story.

Story wall

It is very important to point out the fact that story wall maps to a development process. The columns on a wall are direct map to the way we work. As you might already know it is essential to bend and improve the process in order to achieve best results possible.

A very short break through the mentioned story wall. When Story got analyzed it moves into ready for development. Developer picks it up and works on it. When work on it is finished it is ready for being QA. If there are any bugs or hidden “features” it goes back to Development and so on. Once QA is happy with the story it is ready for Sign-Off. In any point in time if something stop story from being Developed/QAed/Analyzed it goes into blocked. Once the story is showcased it officially finished.

In perfect world this sounds good, but … as software development world is one of the most imperfect, it doesn’t. For example, if stories are in development, QAs might have nothing to do. If stories are developed in “high rate” the QA column will pile up. Once story is in QA, devs are picking new story and start their work on it. When bug is discovered on previous one it is raised as bug, or story is moved back to ready for development.

Evolution

In our current project, we have identified some issues and decided to change, improve our way of working from the very beginning. As process changed so did our story wall.

Once all the stories for iteration have been analyzed they are landing in Ready for Development. The team has 6 developers, as we are pairing, we are 3 pairs working on 3 stories at the time. This makes THREE streams of work that could be started at any time. We decided that we will create THREE vertical slots for that THREE pairs. This means that it is impossible to have four stories worked on at any given point in time.

Next, we decided to eliminate QA column. It doesn’t mean that there is no QA, it means that QAs are involved in testing from very beginning. While the story is worked on, every single bit of new functionality is presented to QA to check it out. Developers are getting immediate feedback and very often tips for things that they could miss. In a mean time QAs are testing on their test environment and preparing automated tests.

We have the luxury of heaving one QA per DEV pair. This makes little teams of THREE. When development is finished there is very little for QA to test as it was already done. At the end newly created automated tests are fired up just to confirm that all is done.

As it is a team effort (a DEV pair plus QA) to FINISH the story, DEVS are helping in testing and in development of automated tests when needed. The story goes than into Ready for Sign-Off.

It involved discipline to make sure that only one story is worked on at the time, until entirely finished and being ready for presentation to business sponsor.

The THREE musketeers are responsible for the story to be finished and to improve the process.

Story wall

Revolution

How did this process change affect our project. Short summary.

  • We have completed all the required scope for release, in given time (a little ahead of time)
  • Number of recorded bugs: 1 (fixed few minutes after it was reported)
  • Team morale, GREAT

We are very happy with this setup. What YOU think about it?

Cheers, Greg and the Team

4 thoughts on “Revolution – Evolution of a story wall

  1. Sounds like a great result Greg. Btw, to some people the “development process” is sometimes called “workflow” for others. Also, your limiting to 3 vertical slots is also a Kanban-esque practice (creating a hard limit). Many agile teams using visual boards tend to have this if they only have one person/one pair working on one thing at a time. Nice one. Thanks for sharing.

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