Friday, January 16, 2009

Good stories have Great titles

When you read a good book, you can quickly refer to it by its title: We, Animal Farm, The Left Hand of Darkness. Having a title saves you the time of recapping the plot in order to establish that you and someone else know what the story is about.

Every day, Scrum teams do a 15 minute standup during which they describe to their team how they've spent their development time. I've noticed that teams which have been coached to use the "as a user" format of stories (credited to Rachel Davies & Tim Mackinnon, promulgated by Mike Cohen and many others including my self), create an impediment by giving their stories ID numbers instead of titles. "I worked on client authentication" turns into "I worked on story 6933," and most of the team doesn't know what this is and often just lets the information fly overhead. Even if they were familiar with 6933, there is less information and more abstraction when assigning numbers, and it's hard to feel an emotional attachment when sharing this number to people ancillary to the team, such as stake holders or perhaps the product owner. These story serial numbers become an impediment to communication.

For a while I coached teams to save that first line for the story title. It's easy to forget though and violates the principle of "once and only once" since the portion of the "as a user" format already contains that information. As a second measure, I coach them to underline the key words on the story card. But teams still end up adding an ID number, and in the heat of giving standup, it's actually hard to parse all the words though easier to rattle off the ID prominently displayed in the upper left-hand side of the task card, so I sometimes end up wasting my breath by saying the number.
Today I was writing some new stories and struck upon something that made felt right:


For example:

I've been using this format on my last two projects and have been very happy so far. I like how the story title has the important element coming first: What I Want.

Give it a try, and tell me what you think. I'd love to here your comments. Let's not try to describe Animal Farm by giving it some meaningless number, unless we're talking about 1984.


  1. Nice alternative. I like having the title at the top of the card. It gets right to the point rather than having to get to the middle of the sentence. I will share this with my team and let you know how it goes. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Feedback from others using this format is that the term "so that" is a bit ingrained for business value. Using "so " causes a syntax collision in the brain. An adjustment like the following avoids this:

    [what you want]
    "for" [role]
    "so that" [business value]