Themes in Agile Software Development

User Story Themes in Agile Software DevelopmentAgile software development teams often use User Stories as a simple and concise way to express user requirements.

Ideally these User Stories are broken down as small as possible, whilst also trying to minimise dependencies.

Naturally, though, as you break User Stories down smaller, they become increasingly inter-dependent. Like most things in software development, it’s a balancing act.

Break the User Stories down as small as possible. But stop breaking them down when it becomes onerous or pointless to do so. When a User Story can be delivered (done) in less than 1 day, I think there is little point breaking it down any further.

Use the concept of Themes to categorise these related User Stories under one label and keep them together.

You could physically keep the cards together by paper-clipping the cards together. Or you could put a card representing the Theme on the left side of your whiteboard, and keep all related User Stories on the same row as the Theme as they move across the board.

Equally important, try to make sure that any inter-dependency between User Stories is a soft dependency, rather than hard. By this, I mean that you might not want to ship any of the User Stories until the whole Theme is done. But try not to break them up in such a way that one User Story simply doesn’t work without another.

For instance, a ‘Login’ Theme might include User Stories for Register, Log in, and Forgotten password. Although the stories are related, and somewhat dependent on each other, they can still be delivered in isolation, and can still work from a user perspective if you do them in the right order.

You can also use Themes to categorise loosely-related items on your Product Backlog. For example, on a web site, you might have a whole host of User Stories relating to SEO, performance, usability, a re-style, or sections that are made up of multiple User Stories.

Assigning Themes to the User Stories in your Product Backlog can help you to see emerging themes, which with a loose set of User Stories you may not have noticed. When you see emerging themes for your next Sprint or two, this can help to give extra clarity to the team and business about the Sprint Goals.

This is a useful thing to do. It gives you more of a message for the Sprint. It’s actually *about* something, rather than a random collection of high value but unrelated stories. It could tell you that you’re focusing a high percentage of your Sprint on features x and y, when at a macro level your priorities are really elsewhere, for example.

It also helps when priorities are set top-down. For example, let’s say we make the commercial decision that for the next few sprints SEO will be a top priority. You can quickly grab all the User Stories with the SEO Theme and give them priority.

Of course it’s fine for a sprint to include items that are not part of the overall Theme. The theme is simply the main area of focus, not necessarily the sole area of focus.

There is sometimes a danger with agile software development that everything is broken down so small and incremental that everything becomes a bit too tactical, and there is either no direction or at least the direction is not apparent.

It’s important to keep a higher level Release Plan, or a Product Roadmap, so the Sprints do take the product in a certain direction, and so the team can see what that direction is. Because no Sprint is an island!

You can also use Themes as a simple way to sketch out broad priorities on the Product Roadmap, showing the key areas of focus over time.

Kelly.

Photo by *phototristan

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

In The Zone with Marcin Zasepa

Welcome to the second in our new series, ‘in the zone’, a collection of conversations with CTO’s within the CTO Zone community. Each week we’ll be discussing the latest trends, insights gained from there experiences, and future predictions for their industry. This week we’d like to welcome Marcin Zasepa, CTO at Homegate AG in Switzerland. Every episode will be approximately 30 minutes

Read More »

In The Zone with Sasha Bilton

Welcome to the first in our new series, ‘in the zone’, a collection of conversations with CTO’s within the CTO Zone community. Each week we’ll be discussing the latest trends, insights gained from there experiences, and future predictions for their industry. This week we’d like to welcome Sasha Bilton. Every episode will be approximately 30 minutes long, and we aim

Read More »

Case Study: DAZN Data Engineering

Find out how 101 Ways helped DAZN improve their existing data warehouse as well as planning and setting the foundations of the new cloud-based data platform. Click here to download the full case study. Get in touch with a member of the 101 Ways team if you would like to discuss ways in which we can help you and your company

Read More »

Search the Blog

Agile Management Made Easy!

All About Agile

By Kelly Waters

“’Agile’ is one of the biggest buzzwords of the last decade. Agile methods often come across as rather more complicated than they really are. This book is an attempt to unravel that complexity. To simplify the concepts. This book breaks the concepts into small bite-sized pieces that are easy to understand and easy to implement and delivers the message in a friendly and conversational style. Allaboutagile.com is one of the most popular blogs about agile on the web. ”

Kelly Waters

Agile 101 is available to purchase. GAME ON!

Agile 101

Emma Hopkinson-Spark

“Whilst there are lots of ways you can vary the game depending on the teams you have and the learning outcomes you want, the basic flow of the game play is common to all.”
Emma Hopkinson-Spark

Why did we make the game?

How to play the game?

London

101 Ways Limited
41 Corsham Street
London
N1 6DR
United Kingdom

Manchester

101 Ways Limited
No.1 Spinningfields
Quay Street
Manchester
M3 3JE
United Kingdom

Amsterdam

101 Ways BV
Weesperstraat 61-105
1018 VN Amsterdam
Netherlands

Contact Us

If you would like to get in touch with one of the team at 101 Ways, then please fill out the form below or email us at contact-us@101ways.com.