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BA Guide to Essential Agile Techniques Q&A

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The following questions were asked by participants in our recent webinar, BA Guide to Essential Agile Techniques, which is now available as an on demand recording.

Keep reading this post for answers to our participants’  great questions!


Themes & Epics

Sounds to me like themes and epics could really be interchanged under certain circumstances. This is confusing me somewhat! Would you build a “theme epic” for a release?

Themes and epics look alike, but when you implement a theme you usually need to include additional stories, rather than just the stories you would get from breaking down an epic. For example, if you implement the “make an appointment theme” for a release, you might also include some stories for customer support.

Can a theme be based on a government, compliance or legal requirement?

I think so, if the requirement is broad enough to cover several user stories.

Do you recommend prioritizing at the user story level (more granular) versus the Epic level?

It depends on where you are – if you are planning a release, you might prioritize at the theme or epic level, and then when you have selected themes or epics for a release, prioritize the user stories that belong to themes or epics using a technique like the MoSCoW rules.

How do you recommend documenting the “conversation”? Maybe a use case? Acceptance criteria seems more like “test conditions”. 2. I’ve heard before that the motivation part of the user story should be granular enough that it is testable — would you agree? At the Epic level, then can the motivation part of the statement be the higher level business value?

The conversations about the story can be captured in notes that can be used to develop the ACs, which are used for testing the completed story. I agree that the motivation should be testable – you don’t want something like “so I can do my job” as your motivation! And yes, at the epic level the motivation would reflect the business value of the story, but that is also true for lower-level stories.


User Stories

Question markCan we use the user stories and use cases together? Do they complement or contradict? If so who to who?

I would start with user stories and then write use cases only for the ones with complex logic. Remember that simplicity is key to an Agile approach!

How/when do you involve user experience in the process? Does user experience help create user stories or do user stories help create UX?

I would definitely include a user experience expert in creating user stories and in evaluating the use of the functionality after each iteration.

Should user stories all be stored in one location to be accessed at a future date? How is reusability used within Agile?

Many teams use Agile tools to store user stories. I have not seen reusability addressed specifically with regard to Agile but I suppose user stories might apply to more than one project.

What is the hand off to operations on the maintenance of what was developed using User Stories?

Many Agile teams develop operational documentation before they release – since operation is a user role, you can write stories for them and put them on the backlog.

I have a question on Acceptance Criteria of the user story. Is it a norm – a must to split the US into 2 when there are more than one ‘when’ statements?

The “when I do this…” part of the Acceptance Criteria is what you are actually testing.   So although you can have multiple “Givens” and “Then I expects,” it is cleaner to have just one “when,” since you will test against the Acceptance Criteria.

How do you handle the task type things like creating and defining a database, etc. How is the overall design and architecture handled?

When you select a story for an iteration, you break it down into the tasks that need to be done to create the story, such as design and creating database tables. For large projects, most organizations do some upfront work on the architecture and design before starting development iterations, using an approach such as Feature Driven Development (FDD).

Is there a BRD type of document in Agile? If so, is there a formal sign off in the document?

The Product Backlog replaces the BRD, and formal sign off is replaced by acceptance (or not) of the user stories developed during the Sprint in the Sprint Review Meeting at the end.

With acceptance criteria, are you advocating that they should be defined when a story is being developed as opposed to when it goes into the backlog?

Yes, doing it ahead of time doesn’t take advantage of the fact that you will know more when you are going to develop the story. But you want the Acceptance Criteria defined when you are ready to work on the story.

Prioritization and MoSCoW

Can you please expand on the prioritization of the product backlog?

One organization I worked with had the Product Owner prioritize for business value, and then the Team assigned a separate priority based on development needs such as dependencies, and they combined both to determine the priority of an item. For example, the Team could consider fixing a critical defect high priority, but it does not have high business value since there is no new functionality being added.

Can you include “could” when not all “should” are included? If there are “should have” items, do we expect to clear them all before working on “could have” items, or is that not necessary.

Sometimes that happens when the coulds are really easy to do, but otherwise you should focus on your shoulds before your coulds.

How to you manage if scope is increasing in this model?

Since the Product Backlog is continually prioritized, some of the low priority items may not BecomeAnABAget developed and that is a good thing since they don’t have much value.

BA’s in Agile Projects

For you what is the difference between product owner and product manager, and how does this fit with BA role?

The roles are similar, although the product manager role is also focused on marketing the product, talking to external customers, understanding competitor’s products, etc. All of which a Product Owner might also do – it depends on the type of product.

Does that mean that BAs would make good ScrumMasters?

I think BAs have many of the qualities needed by a good Scrum Master! We don’t advocate that a BA should also be a ScrumMaster on the same team – they are separate functions.

How do you promote the value of a BA when Agile does not list the BA as a specific role in the team?

That was really the focus of the webinar – building value – and many of the topics covered are things that someone with BA skills can do.

If we take BA as a specialist skill in the Agile team aren’t we going away from T shape (and pie shape) skill set?

I didn’t mean to imply that the BA on an Agile team is a specialist skill – the BA can do testing, documentation, etc. as well as the activities described during the webinar.

Doesn’t this specialist role get into the way of Agile team to be fully “Cross-functional”?

Yes – the goal is to be able to move between different types of activities, but teams may have some degree of specialization based on the skills they need to build their product.

In my experience with being on an Agile project, my Agile leaders say, we all jump in to do the work until the work gets done… but how can a QA type person jump in to do the work of a BA or a Developer, or vice versa…?

If you have the time and ability to do something on the Sprint Backlog, you can jump in and do it. It is also a good opportunity to broaden your skills!

What role is left for a PM with a self-directed team in a project using Scrum?

The role becomes more of a coaching role, helping the team accomplish their goals and stay on track.  There may be other traditional PM duties to perform such as budgeting, contracting, reporting, and HR functions.

Agile Approach

Agile vs. Waterfall

What advice do you have to change the thought process and behavior of BA’s who are used to getting as much detail as possible for complete requirements using waterfall?

With Lean Thinking, we have started development on a story without knowing all the information. Any suggestions on getting people comfortable that it is ok to start without planning every detail as in waterfall?

As a BA. I really like the Agile approach since I don’t have to figure everything out up front! Ask them how successful they have been in getting everything “defined” up front, how many requirements were missed or misunderstood, and how many changes they had to deal with!

How are organizations reconciling the direction to standardize procedures, processes templates, roles and responsibilities for the traditional waterfall approach, which have become the ‘standard’ and have that co-exist with Agile?

Organizations that want to use Agile typically define a different set of processes, roles, etc. for Agile projects, and indications when a project can use an Agile approach.  There will also be cultural changes in the business to be made if the organization wants to be more Agile.

How does your IT group react to an Agile process vs. a traditional process? How much Org change management is needed to get IT to go to Agile?

It is definitely a culture change to move to Agile, and implementing a successful culture change requires organizational change management. I recommend Mike Cohn’s book Succeeding with Agile for some great advice on this topic.

General Agile Questions

Is Agile more common in software development? Is this approach we are learning about considered best practice and it can vary by company & industry? Obviously web app development is a natural contender for Agile, are there any project types that are not that great for Agile (eg: infrastructure projects)?

Agile was designed for software development since software (if built well) is easy to change. But this approach can be used for anything that is easy to change.  For example, Watermark uses an Agile approach in its marketing campaigns.

Could we use the Agile for back-end system like school education?

The Agile approach is used on all types of projects. I would need more detail to see if it would be a good fit for your application.

Question: As virtualization is becoming more connected with Agile projects, what are the pros and cons of virtualization tools such as iRise and others?

I think of iRise as a prototyping tool and I think it can be very useful to get early feedback. You can also do screen prototypes roughly on paper or a whiteboard.

For a four week sprint, generally speaking, how long should a Sprint Planning meeting take? Ours take 1-3 days. Is this appropriate?

I think that is too long – the meeting is time-boxed to 8 hours for a 2 week sprint. Maybe some of the work during your meeting should be done in the previous sprint to get the stories “ready”.

Do you (Watermark) ever really delve into the aspects of QA? You seem to be very BA focused.

Definitely – we have a class on software testing, for example.

What would be your suggestion in teaching a team who is not trained or understand Agile correctly, but is trying to run against impossible timelines using scrum?

Get some training for them! We often do our classes using a team’s project so they would still be producing work but they would also learn how to use these techniques on their project.

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3 thoughts on “BA Guide to Essential Agile Techniques Q&A

  1. Marsha, I thought the recommended time box for sprint planning for a 4 week sprint was 8 hours, with 4 hour for a 2 week sprint. Am I mistaken or was that a glitch in your answer above?

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