INVESTeD

I use the INVEST criteria to help teams define good User Stories. This would normally be sufficient to get any one story into production, but in the case of a new feature (or MVP) this has frustratingly not been enough; the stories just pile up in a feature branch until the team feel there is enough of them to deliver real value to the customer.

I have discussed with the teams how they can enlist the help of alpha and beta testers to get early feedback on new features that are not functionally complete. Here I add that the feature should still possess conceptual integrity. For instance, the first story in the feature might just allow the customer to to log in and log out. This does not deliver any real value to the customer, but it is testable, and it possesses conceptual integrity.

There are some obvious signs when this early testing doesn’t happen: the team hasn’t released anything for a month or two, the stories have been piling up in the Done column, and the PO is feeling a bit stressed. In these situations, the coach can ask the team:

What is stopping the team releasing something tomorrow to customers, friendly or otherwise?

This always starts an interesting discussion and the team usually identifies a (short) list of things to do to get the unfinished feature in front of some friendly customers. This gives the team a much-needed feeling of achievement, but more importantly they can start getting real feedback on the new feature.

This is a win for the coach, but it is still a reactive process. How can I make this a proactive part of the software delivery process? What I want is to encourage the team to really think about their Definition of Done much earlier. What I am hoping for is that the team will set a goal that goes something like this:

The stories the team prepare during backlog refinement must be delivered to customers (internal users, early adopters, etc.) as soon as each story is finished.

So from now on I will include “delivery” in my discussions with the teams by extending the definition of the criteria for a good User Story: Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable and Deliverable; or INVESTeD for short.

This builds on a definition that is already familiar to the teams and so it will be natural to think about how to meet this criteria right from the start.

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