Agile – Theme, Epics, User Stories and Tasks

Themes

  • A Theme is a key objective or goal which could be across projects and products. Themes can be broken down into sub-themes, which are more likely to be product-specific. At its most granular form, a Theme may be an Epic.
  • Themes can be used at both Programme and Project Level to drive strategic alignment and communicate a clear objective or goal.

EPICS

  • An Epic is a grouping of User Stories that can be logically grouped. Epics are broken down into user stories to detail them out.
  • Epics can be used at a both Programme and Project Level.

User Stories

  • An User story is an Independent, Small, Testable requirement that has clear acceptance criteria and estimate.
  • User Stories are great for Project and Product Development Teams as they are easy to understand, discuss and prioritise – they are prioritised in a product backlog and become part of Sprint as deliverables

Tasks

The project / product team members break up the User Stories into smaller Tasks during the Sprint Planning Process to achieve the user story functionality. User stories that are too small may not have a need to break up in tasks.

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SCRUM AGILE Project Need and Execution

The world markets and business changes are getting more and more dynamic every day. This leads to continuous business change and expectation to have change deployed in the shortest and fastest time frame possible with required agility and flexibility of business processes.

Given the speed of change and the part Information and Communication Technology is playing we have seen the need for how IT system changes are dealt with and executed. Business is constantly asking IT to make the IT system changes faster and faster while still ensuring quality, cost and time needs are efficiently managed.

A major part of IT system change execution is related to how its programs and projects are executed. The traditional project management methodologies and IT projects water fall method of executing and delivering project outcomes are not helping. The key reasons for water fall approach not working are,

  1. Business changes are dynamic and time to get the change done is shorter means even business doesn’t have the complete idea of every details of the product. Hence requiring faster iteration of part of the product benefits to build on the next set of requirements.
  2. The waterfall method of executing IT projects lead to long project execution cycle that relies on 100% clear business change requirements and detailed product requirements. This requires longer time to get things documented, designed, built and then longer testing, fixing and deployment times.
  3. With traditional waterfall project execution there is lost opportunity for improving the product as the business gets to see the product only at certain stage of the project by when there is not much room for changes given the need for speed.
  4. In traditional waterfall projects the business is unable to make interim decisions stopping the project or changing its path at any stage of the project for better product creation by saving time and cost spending.

The above reasons lead to the need of a new IT projects/programs execution methodology. In 1990s a new methodology emerged called SCRUM which gives the required agility in any IT product delivery. The methodology was more tried and used in early 2000 and last decade by big software development vendors that continuously work on software product development and releases.

SCRUM focuses on products delivery by delivering its prioritised features in smaller (2 to 4 weeks) iterative cycles known as sprint. Each sprint delivers a set of working product features to the product owner for testing and releasing it to production. The whole agile development cycle continues as iterative sprints until the entire product with all its features are delivered to the product owner.

As each sprint (iteration) is of maximum 4 weeks, the product owner at the end of each sprint has authority to approve the next sprint or cancel and stop further product development. The product owner also has authority to change product priorities and add or remove features to the product and hence allowing the agility and flexibility of product development.

There are other positive points of SCRUM (Agile) way of product development. The sprint is delivered by a team working on that sprint. The team has required skilled resources that choose the activities themselves and create a complete sprint plan. The team appoints one of the team members as SCRUM Master who ensures that every single day the team members update each other and SCRUM Master help to remove any roadblocks for a successful produce delivery. The entire team is responsible for product delivery and if a sprint is successful then it’s due to the entire team and when it fails the team notes down the downsides and work on improving it in next sprint.

All in all SCRUM (Agile) way of doing IT projects can be successfully used for all the projects/programs that are planned to deliver products. It’s said that by 2015 at least 80% of IT projects would be using SCRUM (Agile) way of doing projects. So the earlier we start using the better. Even if 70% of IT projects are done in SCRUM (Agile) way then it would do wonders for business change projects.

SCRUM – Agile Why now ?

We are in a decade where changes of all types and shapes appear from various angles. We all are demanded to adapt as well as deliver successfully on all our activities and task to eventually ensuring the business change request delivered. In the years to come we will continue to face more and more changes and with all these changes comes, risks and delays if not handled promptly and properly.

Amongst all these changes and need to faster, the word Agile and Nimble are heard very often these days. Being Agile and Nimble is all about being lean but at the same time able to handle and adapt to change, growth and even discarding the change when necessary.

For the business change/growth the competitive advantage and window opportunity to be ahead of the competition is getting smaller and smaller. This means if we are delayed for the window then somebody else will take the opportunity and this will result in loss of market share and business growth. This is the key driver for the need of speed in doing so its also key to be able to change path and decide on different routes of changes as they come.

The traditional way of managing changing over years is becoming obsolete given the Gen-X, Gen-Y and later in the decade Millennial coming work. The use of internet for real time collaboration, communication and ideas build up as well as taking advantage and launching new growth options is becoming the name of the game.

The unpredictability of whether, natural disasters and economical changes are putting all business on their toes to react to changes even more faster and to deal with them effectively. Failure to do so have shown business going bankrupt or being taken over by others with in no time.

Even Mergers, Acquisitions and Disentanglements are taking speed where these are more and more asked for be dealt with fully in 3 to 9 months.

All of the above asks us to find out methods and possible ways to handle changes differently then we are use to.

Going towards Agile way of doing things allows us to bring more ownership of actions towards the group of people who need to do it as well as ensure that every sprint the team improves as well as delivers part of the business change requested. Agile is sure shot way of ensuring we are more adaptable to changing routes/options of business, while its not a one size fits all method. This means it needs to be applied and used selectively as it does require efforts and time for an organisation to get used to it and to keep doing it the right way.