Agile QuickTip: User Stories and Product Ideas Should be Born on Index Cards

How Do You Capture Your User Stories and Product Ideas? Try Index Cards

Here’s an out of the box idea that at first glance might seem counter-intuitive. I believe that user stories and product ideas should be born on index cards, rather than immediately logged electronically.

Most Agile or scrum teams will use some kind of electronic tool as a repository for their product backlog. This could be a JIRA, or Rally, or it might be something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet that houses user stories. Sometimes, however, an electronic tool can serve as a barrier to creativity and collaboration, exactly what you need for brainstorming and idea generation.

A better way to capture these ideas is by using an index card or a sticky note. Think about how ideas are generated. The product owner will be talking to users, engaging with customers, discussing with stakeholders or even informally chatting with their own team members.  Pausing conversations to type notes into a computer or mobile phone would really slow those conversations down. Capturing these ideas on an index cards has a few key benefits:

  1. It makes the whole process a lot more tactile, supporting different kinds of learning and collaboration.
  2. It encourages others to participate at these vital early stages where creative sparks can fly more easily. Everyone can contribute ideas on their own post-its.
  3. It allows the Product Owner to take leadership over which ideas are best and should be included in the repository. Index cards can be moved, groups, prioritized, etc.
  4. It streamlines the eventual list of ideas and user stories to the most essential and immediate. Not all the ideas should make it into the repository. Product Owners can filter the sticky notes or index cards they want to include.

Give it a try next time you’re with your team, and let me know in the comments if it makes a difference!

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Agile QuickTip: Safety Checks to Kick Off Your Meetings

Safety Checks to Kick Off Your Meetings

We often assume that participants in teams feel comfortable being open, transparent and forthcoming in a way that will make meetings and interactions meaningful and valuable.  But what if this assumption is wrong? How would we know?  How might this affect a meeting, it’s participants and the meeting outcomes?

One simple technique that can be introduced when kicking off any meeting is the Meeting Safety Check.

At the start of a meeting, all you need to do, is ask participants to rate on a scale of zero to five what their level of comfort or safety is, in participating and sharing information during the meeting. You could have people hold up the corresponding number of fingers; or write a number on a post-it. If you’re concerned that team members won’t be honest about in their rating you could do this anonymously to help participants feel more comfortable sharing.

Based on the results of the Safety Check you then have three choices: continue with the meeting as planned, keeping an eye out for the team dynamics; address the safety concerns before the meeting begins; or cancel the meeting altogether until the safety concerns have been addressed. By introducing Safety Checks, not only do we make meeting safety a meeting pre-requisite priority, we also introduce a way to assess and evaluate when safety issues dealt with.  Meeting safety will likely lead to more engaged participants and better meeting outcomes.

I hope that this Agile QuickTip was enjoyable and valuable, and you can see yourself implementing it into your team meetings. Make sure to check our YoutTube channel to catch up on the ones you’ve missed! Don’t forget to head to Thinklouder.com to see our training and coaching offerings, and hit that follow button on Instagram, @GioraMorein, as well as on Twitter.

Agile QuickTip: Your Process Management Tool is not a Facilitation Tool

Process management tools are a common way to for a team to manage its work, it’s backlog, and its plans.  But these are repositories of information, they are not likely the best way to create this information.  Here’s an idea that might make work better.

Most agile scrum teams will use some kind of digital or electronic tool to help manage their team process. Maybe it’s Jira, or IBMs RTC, or Rally, or Microsoft’s own product. All of these tools have pros and cons, and are great process management tools, made to hold and manage a repository of information about your plan and your backlog. Regardless of which tool you choose, you need to remember that these are process management tools – not facilitation tools.

Just because these tools are the best place to store your information, does not mean that they are the best tool to facilitate the creation of this information. You need to find alternative ways to facilitate collaboration and communication to create this data – regardless where it ends up being stored.

Seek out tools that can help facilitate discussion, planning, solutioning etc.. Use more tactile tools if you can – like sticky notes or index cards.  If your team is virtual, us some kind of collaborative whiteboard or shared canvas – like MURAL.  You could even use more real-time data-capture tools – like Google Sheets or Office 365 that lets multiple people edit a shared document at the same time.  Using more facilitation-centric tools, your team can generate far more ideas; ensure that every voice is heard; avoid group-think;  and supports collective ownership of the outcome.  You’ll then need to then figure out the best way to extract this information and ‘import’ it into your process tool.  This will result in better information being captured and will even make your process management tool more useful, and far more valuable.

Skip the process management tool and pick up the sticky notes, and let me know how it turns out!

If you enjoyed that Agile Quicktip and found it valuable for your teams, make sure to check out the rest of the series. I would love to get your feedback, so please do leave a comment below, or send me a direct message. You can learn more about our training and coaching offerings , or follow me on Instagram, @gioramorein.