2018 Scrum Planning with User Stories

Happy New Year, Agile Faculty! I hope that you are well-rested, centered, and ready to jump into reaching your goals through productivity and with vitality. Last week was all about completing my end-of-year review and retrospectives so I had a sense of what I had produced and how effective my process was for accomplishing my goals. This is the point in a Scrum team’s sprint that they would take the feedback collected from the review and retrospective to move into planning the next sprint. So that’s my next step as well.

User Stories as Goal-Setting Tool

Throughout Agile Faculty, I talk about how you can adapt the user story format that software teams use to understand work they need to do next to articulate and set meaningful goals. The most basic format, according to the guy who wrote the books on good user stories, Mike Cohn, looks like this:

As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.

Using this formula reminds the team that they are developing software for real people with real needs and goals. Thinking this way help the team focus on what their users really need, want, and prioritize so they can stay focused and not wander down code wormholes.

In the book, I articulate a variation of the user story that you can use in your own planning as well as with students and peers in teaching, advising, and mentoring interactions. My version looks like this:

As a <type of person>, I want to <be able to do something> so that I can <accomplish some meaningful goal>.

RPR’s 2018 Planning Using Stories

As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to do big planning meetings with myself at the breaks of the academic year – before spring semester, summer, and fall semester. While I try to set an intention for the year, I don’t write stories or plan for the entire calendar year because I was to be flexible and responsive. For example, I know there will be ton of scholarship to come out of the second pilot of the Design Thinking Studio in Social Innovation this spring, but I can’t possibly know what we might want to write or pursue.

So this year, I set aside time to brainstorm a variety of possible epics – basically big stories that will take more than one sprint to complete – that could guide me this winter and spring. I’m kicking around some themes or intentions for 2018 that guided this brainstorm – play bigger (based on Tara Mohr’s coaching program), add value (as a reminder not just go through the motions), and “vitality > productivity” (which is the core theme of my Agile Faculty work). With this in mind, I first listed a variety of roles or identities at play in my life:

  • instructor and mentor to undergraduate students
  • faculty member with leadership roles in my department, our professional writing and rhetoric program (which is starting a stand-along major in 2018), our design thinking initiative, and social climate work
  • researcher of student collaboration, rhetorical professional writing pedagogies, and faculty development with Scrum
  • writer of academic articles, essays, and books
  • Scrum professional and aspiring Agile coach in higher education
  • person with interests and life goals outside of higher education.

From there, I generated user stories that aligned with these identities. Here’s a few samples:

  • As a leader and faculty member in our PWR program, I want to create a solid foundation for the new major in terms of marketing, recruiting, and prioritizing PWR so that I/we can realize our dream of a strong and vital PWR presence on campus and in students’ education.
  • As a leader in our Design Thinking Studio program and related design thinking initiatives, I want to collaborate with colleagues and students to create a viable curricular and co-curricular pathway to the Studio so that I/we can provide our students with powerful learning opportunities that focus not just on knowledge acquisition and skills but also on core liberal arts capacities like empathy, resilience, perseverance, collaboration, and curiosity.
  • As a writer, I want to develop, visualize, and sustain a clear pipeline of my writing projects in their various stages so that I can better integrate writing into my daily habits, especially during the Spring semester when I tend to de-prioritize anything writing-related.

Once I had a bunch of possible epics, I took a break before returning and selecting three to guide me during the first five months of 2018. Next, I generated smaller stories from the epics – stories that could generally be completed in sprints of less than a month. For example, for my writing epic, I created stories about actually creating the pipeline, clearing three lingering articles off my plate quickly, creating an advice essay series based on Agile Faculty to shop around, and writing and finding a home for a possible Agile Faculty companion piece I’d like to write with a former student.

And finally I planned my first sprint, setting up a sprint backlog for the month of January (since I’m not teaching and have some concentrated time for writing and thinking). You can learn more about that, and even participate with me in a January writing sprint if you are looking for support, encouragement, and accountability. Look for blog and Twitter posts tomorrow with more info!

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