London Agile Discussion Group – 07/01/14

On Tuesday, I went to my first meeting of the London Agile Discussion Group meetup.
The topic for the evening was: “What is the difference between an epic, theme, story & task?”

The format

Before going further into a discussion of the topic, let me just introduce the format of the evening:
Altogether, it’s a pretty informal setup. David, the organiser, initially introduced the topic. We then divided into smaller groups of varying agile experience to discuss the topic. Having noted down some thoughts, each smaller group then reported their thoughts back to the larger group. This worked quite well at setting off a discussion among the larger group between similarities and differences between the different groups.

Some thoughts on the discussion

It was interesting to see what kind of definitions people came up with from the various terms. In particular, it was pretty interesting to see how tools (a lot of people used JIRA for their work planning) and local practices colour your understanding. A lot of sentences in our smaller discussion group started with “you know how in JIRA you do X”.

It also underlined how diverse some of the practice is out there: Both in where Agile is used (we had somebody there using it to organise her work in a one person team and we had people using it for non-software-development work) as well as in the particulars of the process (some people don’t use tasks at all because stories/PBIs are small enough to achieve quickly and intra-progress tracking of PBIs is unnecessary).

Another thing I realised is that I need to delve a lot more deeply into the Agile literature: My knowledge is so far fairly piecemeal and based on articles I have read, discussions with colleagues and other developers outside of the organisation.
(I have now added some more Agile focussed books on to my reading list. This reading list is by now creaking under the heavy volume of books which are in it. My conscience is having trouble with all of the half started and not quite finished books that I have lying around.)

This became particularly obvious, when we discussed some textbook-like definitions such as the INVEST definition of PBIs and the SMART definition of tasks (here’s a good article on invest and smart. Here’s another one on the independent in invest).

Summary

Most of the definitions we settled on in the end were fairly conventional:
People felt there was a clear hierarchy between epics (too large to deliver in a single go, needs to be broken down into PBIs), stories/PBIs (adhering to invest, a unit of functionality that the business cares about) and tasks (smaller units, “implementation details” which the business at large may not care about).
Theme may have been the most contentious one. Some people felt it was a label to be applied to various parts of the hierarchy. A thought I particularly liked was that themes should correspond to particular business visions. This helps maintain the bigger picture when you work on a particular small task.

However, while the end result may have been conventional, it was the process and the diversity of experience in the room which were interesting to me. The discussion also revealed an area in which I personally need to invest more time to become more competent.

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