Ring the Bell for Story Slicing

We have started to adopt agile in our company 2 years ago. One of the techniques we focus on is user story slicing. We make sure the use-cases on our backlog are small enough to match our development iterations (some teams use 2 weeks iterations and some use 3 weeks iterations).

As expected, teams struggled with slicing use-cases. Therefore, we ran a workshop where we went over 9 techniques for slicing (see here for the techniques) and we performed slicing of couple of real examples together. Doing those examples together was challenging — it was not trivial for the teams to come up with a good slicing. Although I was facilitating the discussion and helping them reach the a proper slicing, the feeling was that the next time the team will had to slice, they will have hard time. At the end of the workshop, one of the team members made a suggestion — every time a team will struggle with a use-case slicing, the team will call for the entire group to huddle for doing it together. They concluded that such gathering should happen on the spot, and therefore they have decided to ring the bell when it happens (I’ll tell about “the bell” in a minute). The teams decided on this huddle approach because real case studies are one of the best ways to learn and get experience with new techniques. Moreover, using the crowd wisdom for decision making seems like a great approach in this case.

Now a short explanation about the ring bell. The ring bell is a real physical hand bell we have in our office (I believe I bought it the Frankfurt airport) that was used by the teams for calling people to a daily Scrum meeting (the ring bell was used couple of times till the team gathered for a daily Scrum without the need for the ring bell sound).

Now back to our story. The next time one of the the teams ran into a user-case slicing challenge, they announced it and whoever wanted joined the session (they used the bell only once, after that, they just shout it out). The participation in those sessions was high (around 80%). The first session took 40 minutes, while the ones after took 20 minutes. During those sessions, everyone have shouted ideas to the air and collaborated together to get to the best slicing approach— it was a real peers collaboration and peers decision making (I was doing my best to act as a pure facilitator and not solving the slicing problem myself).

The teams felt it was beneficial for them and wanted to keep doing it. We don’t do it too often, but just when we need (it usually happens once every couple of weeks). The teams also started to do it without my presence, which indicates on a great maturity of the teams and was the ultimate sign that those meetings are real peers decision making.

For more information on this topic, please refer to Management 3.0 Corporate Huddles.

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