What is the Heart of Agile Development?

by Mona Taghavi

Needless to say, agile projects don't follow the traditional way of documentation, but it is more of an up- front style documentation. In sync with the Agile paradigm, they represent an "ongoing dialog". Instead of asking "What's everything?" the team focuses on "Alright, What's next?". User stories as they are called, can also be termed as task oriented writing which is a driving force in an agile environment. No other form of documentation has proven to be as effective given the short iteration cycles that an agile project demands - commonly known as 'Sprints'.

User stories are all about capturing the essence of a conversation about how users interact with the product. Sometimes you tend to forget to validate the completeness of your user stories and deem what you have gathered from the dialogue as sufficient. I have observed that if a team is left with a stack of stories, collected and forged in silos, the end result is different versions of truth and a confused team. That is one major reason why the developers need to sync and identify which stage of the story they uncovered. For instance an excerpt from a well woven user story should look like: "As a book shopper, I can read reviews of a selected book to help me decide whether to buy it? Now, if someone just wrote "Read reviews" you can imagine the nightmare this statement will turn into at the time of delivery

It suffices to say that user stories being the crux of agile projects are not as simple as they look. One they may change or evolve with time and second they represent the problem as well as an opinion. Therefore one of the top most priorities should be to ensure a coherent user story is in place, duly verified and shaped from time to time as multiple facets of the solution are revealed and that there is common understanding between the team and the project stakeholders. Blending user stories with mockups or sketches is one of the best ways to tackle the situation. At times I have stumbled upon critical aspects of a product or a design wherein I couldn't describe them in words and found that a pictorial mockup was more than helpful in getting a sign off. Sweet!

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