How to improve User Stories’ readiness and maturity so that the team can complete them quickly inside a Sprint?

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Many teams complain that the stories they are working on are not ready for development and some details are missing which results in longer cycle times and even inability to complete a story inside the Sprint boundaries.

There are multiple ways to improve readiness, here are 6 of them:

  1. Definition of Ready (DoR) – Define the criteria that a story has to meet before it can be estimated and pulled by the team to their Sprint backlog.  Usually, DOR looks for a story to be clear, small, and testable, including acceptance criteria. 
  1. Schedule backlog refinement to take place earlier or be longer than it is – Teams need to refine their backlog together with the Product Owner in order to reach readiness. The Product Owner can’t guess whether the story is ready from the perspective of the team. They need to review the stories together and ask clarification questions in order to reach readiness.
  1. Practice ATDD\BDD – techniques that enhance the collaboration and shared understanding of the expected behavior of the system by describing the acceptance criteria from the user’s perspective through examples.
  1. Retrospective – Discuss as a team (Developers and Product owner) and implement improvements step by step.
  1. Product Owner Availability – The Product Owner should be available to the team for clarifications and should be representing the customers continuously where direct contact is not possible.
  1. Effort estimation includes effort for refinement – the refinement process should be included in the team’s effort estimations. When they relatively evaluate the size of a story, in addition to the perceived complexity, effort, and “unknowns”, the team can also include the readiness level. In any case, the team needs to allocate time for it.

If all the above has failed, the problem is probably low trust and a siloed perspective. We see cases where development teams blame the Product Owner for not being ready with the stories as they perceive their role as “order takers”. It is basically an antipattern of handovers in the team’s work.

The only way to reach mature stories is by collaboration between the Product Owner and the team. The team needs to be part of the refinement effort which is an integral and necessary part of the process. All the techniques described above aim at improving this collaboration. 

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