What is a User Story and Why Should I Care?

Marcin Niebudek

User Story is a most widely used tool in many Agile methods. Sooner or later you will need to work on some of them or you will need to write a few yourself. At first glance the whole idea may look strange. All those agilists tell you about index cards, about putting them on the wall. They organize them into themes, create some strange maps, call some of them epics, etc.

What is a User Story?

Let’s start from the beginning. User story describes part of your requirements or part of whatever you are trying to achieve in general. In software development we got used to some template (but this is just an example):

“As a [user/role] I want a system to have [some functionality] so that I can achieve [some goal].”

For example:

“As a blog author (my role) I want to be able to create categories for my posts (functionality), so that I can organize all the posts that I write into related topics for better reading (the goal / why I need this).”

But also:

“As a doctor (role) I need to have access to a patients health records and history before the patient comes to a hospital for a scheduled visit (process improvement) so that I can prepare a plan and book some procedures and a patient stay shorter (the goal / why I need this)”

The goal

Actually a template is not so important and if you like different one, then just use it. The most important is a goal part. A user story should bring some value, otherwise why would you want to do it? When writing a story always think about presenting it to a person mentioned in a story (doing a demo)? How would you show that the goal was achieved? If answering this question is a problem, then you should probably rethink your story.

Big and small stories

We usually tell that a story should fit into an index card or a post-it note. The point is not to put too much detail in a single story, but it’s not a level of detail that matters. It’s about story complexity and the expected amount of work required to be done. You should be able to complete a story in some reasonable time. If you work iteratively, then your story should fit into iteration. If you measure cycle time, then the best amount of work put in a single story would fit more or less in that time frame.

Does it mean a story cannot be bigger. No, not at all. Sometimes you will have just a raw idea about what needs to be done. Your story may initially be just called “Customer service improvement”. We will call it an epic. This story will get more details over time. You will split it into smaller stories that can actually be implemented.

Lifecycle

A story have its own lifecycle. It lands in your backlog as an epic, then it gets some details and becomes a set of stories that we can call ready. This is time to start implementing them. They will now go from to do to completed through some various states (depending on your process). There is one more important step…

A story needs to be accepted. This is when you present the outcomes of your work. You will verify if that story meets the set goal. If not, then it will require some more work (which means it will get rejected), otherwise it’s done.

Themes and story mapping

If you are dealing with a complex product or service then you may have a lot of stories to deal with. Having a large backlog is in my opinion a bad idea in general (and I will write a bout it in a few days) but if you do have such a backlog then it’s a good idea to group stories in themes. Themes will usually evolve from groups of epics.

There is also a very useful practice called story mapping. It’s out of scope of this post and I encourage you to read more about it at Jeff Patton’s blog.

What to do next?

So let’s get back to the main question. Why should you care about stories?

My answer is because they are a powerful tool. I would encourage you to think about user stories even if you do not intend to dive into Agile world. They will give you a good perspective and will help you focus on the right things. If you want to learn more about effectively using stories there is a book I especially like. It’s “User Stories Applied” by Mike Cohn.

Agility starts with Expectations

Marcin Niebudek

When we first started creating tinyPM, we wanted to build a tool that will help us do some often repeated things, that will help us structure our actions and make it all visible to our clients. We did not create any user’s guide. We assumed that everyone that will start using tinyPM will find elements familiar to agile environment and the only thing we need to do is to make them easy to use.

Why Are We Here

We assumed that a user of agile tool will know what to do with it. But the time passed and agile way of working got into mainstream. Now we often get questions “Where is the user’s guide?” or “I signed up, followed the first steps, but what do I do next?”. Finally “We want to start working agile way and a friend told me to take a look at your tool”. This one actually made me think about this post.

So many people want to be agile these days. That’s great as agility offers great ideas, but the first steps those people take go down to finding a tool that will… Hmm… I think “that will guide them” is what they actually are looking for. If you are such person or if you ever be asked to recommend a tool, please, first think about:

Expectations

If you think about Agile, I’ll give a short recipe or checklist that I would like you to follow.


STEP 0 – Agile Manifesto

This is an ancient paper once created to remind the values and principles that make us all want to be agile. READ IT! I really do mean it. Read the manifesto, but what is more important read the principles. We’ve done a terrible thing once and read only a few first pages of Winston Royce’s Waterfall paper not paying attention to the rest of the document. Please do read the “second page” of Agile Manifesto.


STEP 1 – Ask yourself some questions

  1. What will change after I become more agile? What change do you expect? How your situation will then differ from what you are dealing with right now?
  2. Why am I doing this? What is wrong right now? What areas do you expect to fix?
  3. If you could remove one of your current problems, which one would it be?
  4. Do you see some agile principles that you could follow to remove that single problem?

This will set your expectations. This will help you focus on the right things. Being agile is useless unless you have some expectations towards your current process.


STEP 2 – Experiment

Take the most painful problem and try to find agile solutions or at least try to find out what Agile methods are offering to solve that problem. But start with a problem and expected outcome. You will quickly find out that your first steps lead to a team’s room or to a chat by the coffe machine, not to a web sign-up form. That will come later, probably somewhere around STEP 20 :-)

If you don’t know what to do with an agile web tool, then you’ve probably tried to skip some steps. Unfortunately this will rather slow you down instead of making you more agile and we really want you to succeed!

Go talk with you team mates.

What’s Happening with tinyPM Lately?

Marcin Niebudek

We are now over 1000 new accounts further since we’ve released tinyPM 3.0 BETA. Since that time we were working hard on different aspects of a new version of our agile tool. I would like to summarize those efforts and tell you a bit more about the nearest future of tinyPM.

tinyPM 3.0 agile management tool sketches

What we did?

First of all we committed a first sin of software development and decided to rewrite tinyPM from scratch :-) Yes – we did it! And what is more important we do not regret that!

So what it exactly means? We’ve moved from JBoss Seam + JSF + RichFaces + Prototype and Scriptaculous stack to Grails + jQuery + Twitter Bootstrap. Why should you care? Well – you don’t need to, but this means that we can finally do what we really want to do in terms of UI/UX solutions, which was very limited with previous technology. This also means that we will be able to better and faster improve tinyPM for you.

Finally this means that the new tinyPM 3.0 is made to best support its new SaaS environment. You can now just sign up in a few seconds and start using tinyPM. You can upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time. We switched technology here too!

New tinyPM no longer uses PayPal which is so troublesome! We’re now using Braintree Payments solution which is light years from PayPal in terms of integration simplicity and usability. But this is probably another story which I will tell you one day if you are interested :-)

New tinyPM version incudes also quite a lot of small changes in the tool itself. This affected language versions, but YOU proved once again to be a great community! It took about a month to get tinyPM back to be translated into 8 languages including German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Russian. Thank you one more time!

What we are working on right now?

We started with SaaS solution, but it doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning the on-site/downloadable version of tinyPM. We are finishing it right now, so it will be available soon. Everyone that is already using tinyPM 2.x will be able to migrate to the new version and of course all the licenses will still work!

Moving from v2.x to v3.0 will be done through migration of projects and wiki in the same way as you can do it right now to move from on-site to SaaS solution (some of you already did that). This means that you will be able to install v3.0 as a separate instance, move selected projects (also leaving behind those that you finished long ago) and test the effects without affecting your current instance.

We are also finishing the timesheet functionality allowing you to record time spent on tasks on a daily basis. This function along with the small fixes and improvements in tinyPM will get us to the final v3.0. So we’re leaving the BETA mode really soon. We actually made new tinyPM 3.0 use a new production environment a while ago, so the BETA is just a name add-on, but now you will know for sure!

What’s next?

Of course we will continue to improve tinyPM as we did for a few years already. We always try to adapt tinyPM to your needs. A few things ahead are:

  • Customizable dashboard and metrics – we will dig through the data tinyPM collects and will give you as many details as possible, so that you can choose which matter to you and so that you can put them on your own personal dashboard
  • Integrations – when you decide to use a SaaS tool, it’s probably because you already got used to a SaaS environment. We will make tinyPM fit better to that environment so that you can use data from your other tools to drive your development in tinyPM.
  • API/imports/exports – we cannot even imagine in how many ways you are analyzing your portfolios, processes and actions. That’s why we will give you back all the data you may need, so that you can always take them with you and report them your way.

We will be posting some more information about those areas here on tinyPM blog. We will also ask you for feedback, so stay tuned!

DARE to be Agile? Get a ticket for DARE 2013!

Marcin Niebudek

We’ve promised something special at our Facebook page last week, so here it is! We are happy to support a very interesting Agile conference in Belgium that will take place on June 15th/16th. But what is even more exciting – YOU can win a ticket to that conference worth 750 EUR!

DARE 2013 in Belgium

The Rules

  • You need to be a tinyPM client – it does not matter if you just became one ;-)
  • You need to post a tinyPM review at BestVendor.com
  • Tweet (the best choice) or post to Facebook or share the information about DARE 2013 any other way you prefer
  • Post a comment here under this post that you did all this :-)

The Prize!

Do all the above and we will draw the prize among the participants on May 30th (Thursday). The winner will get 1 ticket for DARE 2013. We will ask the winner for details and the ticket will be issued by the organizers to your name.

Spread the word and win a ticket for DARE 2013!

Agile Has No Brain…

Marcin Niebudek

Today it’s gonna be really short post. In fact I just want to post a picture here…

Agile Has No Brain

And ask you…

Does it mean anything to you?

Help Translating tinyPM and Win!

Marcin Niebudek

That’s right. We’ve done it once and now we are doing it again. For tinyPM 3.0 we’ve made a lot of small changes and it influenced also the translations.

You as a tinyPM user can help translate the tool into your language. Why should you do that? Well… Agile tools play the best role in distributed environments where different cultures with different languages meet together. You can make it feel more familiar to your team mates. However we have also something for you personally :-)

Translation Gifts

What do you need?

  • You need to know English and one another language (your national language)
  • You need some time
  • You need to have a SaaS tinyPM account with any plan (PERSONAL is enough)

What are the rules?

  • Top contributor for each language wins a tinyPM t-shirt and a $20 Amazon.com gift certificate.
  • Each other contributor who provides at least 20% of translation gets a tinyPM t-shirt.
  • We will send gifts and include a language in main tinyPM release when it reaches 80% of translation.

Where to start?

You need to log into your own tinyPM. From there you can access translations in the two following ways.

  • First one is to go to your “Account Settings” and there you will find a “Language” and a link to translations application.
  • Second one is to use a “gear” menu in the upper-right corner of the screen, which contains “Translate tinyPM” option.

Translating tinyPM

Oh, by the way… When I’m writing this post we have already Spanish translation done, Portuguese and German in progress with new contributions! You are great!

Update May 8th, 2013

Yeah! There are some translations that are already finished. It’s also great to see some new languages that where not present in previous versions. Great! We’ve already contaced translators and are sending gifts.

  • Spanish
  • Slovenian NEW!
  • Chinese
  • Suomi (Finnish) NEW!
  • French
  • German
  • Russian

A few more are in progress. Gift certificates and T-shirts are waiting!

  • Portuguese
  • Dutch
  • Afrikaans NEW!

Holiday Season Greetings from tinyPM!

Marcin Niebudek

Although we all expect the end of the World tomorrow :-) we would like to wish you a Great Holiday Season and a Happy New Year 2013! Thank you for being with us this year.

It’s been a bit quiet here lately but those of you following tinyPM know already that we were working on tinyPM 3.0. Many of you already took a chance to test it. Many have waited for us to leave the BETA mode. The wait is almost over… But hey… Take a look a this :-)

http://bit.ly/tpm3Countdown

Once again Merry Christmas and stay tuned!

Image source: www.wallpaperswala.com/christmas-tree/

tinyPM 3.0 BETA Public Availability

Marcin Niebudek

tinyPM agile collaboration tool just got new powers! We are happy to announce that a new 3.0 version is now available as free BETA.

tinyPM 3.0 BETA

BETA means that we did our best so that everything works fine, but there still may be some quirks. Also note that this is the first tinyPM 3.0 version and we are working hard to improve the feature set.

So what do I get?

First of all new tinyPM is a SaaS solution. Sign up in 1 minute and you’re ready to go. All BETA accounts get 5 users and 5 projects for free. And what’s more important those accounts will remain free also after the BETA period. This way we want to thank you for being our early adopters.

In the new version you will find all the well know and well received features from tinyPM v2.x, but done in a better way. To name a few improvements:

  • our UI just got a lot faster,
  • we’ve improved the usability of all features,
  • most content is editable inline now,
  • backlog management has never been easier,
  • you can do anything you need without leaving your taskboard,
  • we now support read-only users, so that your business and clients stay up to date at no additional cost,
  • and many more…

How do I start?

After logging in you will notice a First Steps box on the top of the page. The best way to start is to follow the steps mentioned there. But feel free to choose your own way or just look around. If something seems confusing to you LET US KNOW! tinyPM should be straightforward to you and we will make sure to keep it that way.

I’ve noticed that some features present in tinyPM 2.x are not there. Why?

Don’t worry. tinyPM 3.0 changed completely the technology stack (but this is a story for another post) so that we can do things the way they should be ;-) We will be introducing missing features shortly. If you think that any particular one should be delivered sooner than others, just LET US KNOW!

You can always post your ideas using Settings menu in the top-right corner of the screen. You will find there Have suggestions? options which posts your comments directly on our UserVoice forum for tinyPM 3.0. Make sure to use it often!

I already have my projects in tinyPM 2.x. What now?

You are all fine. We’re working on a migration path. When it’s ready you will be able to move to tinyPM 3.0 at no additional cost. All licenses from tinyPM 2.x will remain valid. We were always providing upgrades for free to all our users. Nothing changes here.

Have problem or questions?

Make sure to get connected with us through one of the following channels. This is the best way to stay up to date with what’s going on with tinyPM.

tinyPM’s mantra remains the same – tiny effort, perfect management, but we also add one more to it. You can always do better.
Still reading… Stop and check out http://beta.tinypm.com

tinyPM 2.6.2 Released

Marcin Niebudek

While working hard to release tinyPM 3.0 we’ve decided to make one more release for v2.x which would include the most urgent changes. So here comes days off on iteration burn-down charts as well as a few more improvements and fixes to exports and API.

Those of you who use the releases functionality will find current release charts on all dashboards and on backlog so that you can quickly notice how the release is doing.

As always the full list of changes is available in our documentation. Download new tinyPM today!

Christmas Time and a Sneak Peeks for tinyPM 3.0

Marcin Niebudek

It’s been silent here recently, but for us this always means one thing… Our team must be working hard on something. And this time it’s tinyPM 3.0, so have a look at the first sneak peak to where tinyPM is heading with its new version!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmMeyu-PtRE

The video above comes from our early walking skeleton. So what’s in there actually? We’ve decided to change a few things in UI but you will still find all what’s best in tinyPM in a new version, so the v3.0 should not be a shock to all the 2.x users.

The upcoming UI changes include:

  • more client-side behavior so that the UI responds quickly and you don’t loose your current context,
  • most of the create and edit forms will now show up in pop-ups (no more going to separate pages),
  • you will be able to choose between single- and two-column views, cards and table modes (on backlog) and 3 zoom levels of detail for stories and tasks,
  • the UI will be less cluttered and some actions will appear only in the right context (ie. after selecting some stories or tags),
  • charts will get more interactive, so that you can get even more information out of them,
  • most of the data will be editable inline (no more going to separate forms for quick changes on several stories),
  • table view will get more sorting options and (re-)tagging many stories will become no-time operation

We’re doing this and many more in the spirit of our mantra “tiny effort, perfect management“. Here are a few screen shots presenting some of the above changes. You can find more on our Facebook Page.

We hope that you are already in the Christmas mood and would like to wish you all

Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

~ tinyPM Team