Common Understanding for User Stories

So a while back I was having seeing a team have different interpretations of user  stories causing some confusion. Differing interpretations of the feature caused a little backtracking and introduced waste into the sprints.. nothing awful, just not ideal.

I came up with a very simple exercise to help the team understand that we can too easily make assumptions that everyone understand exactly what we mean, and the in fact our mental models are often quite different.

So I asked them to write down how they make Spaghetti Bolognese (or if you prefer, like me, Ragu*), a dish most us were likely to know. So they spent a few minutes thinking about it, and after everyone was done we went round the team reading out the ingredients.

Can you guess what happened?

Everyone had similar ingredients, but not the same. Most people had Mince, Onion, Carrot, Tomatoes.. some extended it into Celery (correct), a few added mushrooms (wrong), I had both Beef & Pork mince as well as Pancetta, Red Wine, Nutmeg, Oregano, Milk and Beef stock and not Spaghetti but Tagliatelle (I was taught this way by an 84yr old Italian Nonna, any deviation was food crime in her eyes ).

So what did it tell us? We all know what Spaghetti Bolognese (*cough*  Tagliatelle al Ragu) is, but all had different interpretations. The team could draw the parallel from this to the assumptions we were making about other peoples understanding of a feature. It led to some very interesting discussions and a team habit of reiterating to each other the User Stories under development during sprint planning.

It eliminated much of the confusion and helped the team pull in a single direction.





*Not Ragu the brand, Ragu is the correct name for the dish we know as Spaghetti Bolognese.