How to powerfully direct product execution using epics, features, and stories

Hi Product Owners & Managers

Let’s talk about applying Agile… and specifically How to powerfully direct product execution using epics, features, & stories

This SUMMARY article will cover the problems, the insights, and recommended approaches related to this challenge.

Quick disclaimer: We are assuming you completed Agile / Scrum foundations training. Knowledge presented here is mean to grow your existing Agile / Scrum practices.


The Scenario

You are a talented and passionate Product Owner or Product Manager. You have an awesome product vision that will provide significant business and customer value. Yet as a Product Owner you don’t directly manage the Scrum team. How can you use the primary vehicle of Epics, Features, and Stories to empower, inform, and direct the Scrum Team?

So the big challenge here is: How can Product Owners & managers powerfully direct product execution using Epics, Features, & Stories?


Typical Problems

Let’s take a look at typical problems related to this big challenge:

  • The Scrum team does not deliver the product you envisioned
  • The Scrum team has difficulty understanding your product vision
  • Implementation, technical, legal, or other limitations alter your product vision
  • Stories delivered  by the Scrum team fail to provide expected business results (e.g. lift in product sales)
  • Simply difficulty articulating your awesome product vision using Epics, Features, and Stories

All of these can lead to disappointment, confusion, frustration, and of course potential failure to provide expected business results. So where do we go from here?


Key Insights

Interestingly enough, our VT research (summarized in table 1.1 below) shows us we have varied levels of information when we define Epics, Features, or Stories…

  • We most often focus on WHAT… when in fact this is only partly known
  • Where in fact WHO information is more known and reliable
  • The WHY information is sometimes not provided and therefore uncertain
  • And that despite our training, we keep including the HOW (hopefully inside the story) even though it contains most ambiguity.

We often forget that Epics, Features, and Stories are not the sources of truth… they are vehicles to jointly discover “the truth”

Insights - Image - Ambiguity in Stories
Table 1.1 | Global Survey of Agile / Scrum Professionals | Sep. 2018

Recommended Approaches

Now let us review a number of powerful approaches we can use to crush this big challenge!

  1. Structure and write your Epics, Features, and Stories based on and focusing on what you know the best, the WHY… the business value, not the WHAT
  2. When WHY / the impact is not known (e.g. innovative new capabilities), create small MVP test stories to discover and confirm business results… don’t assume and expect they are actually there
  3. Make the WHO & the WHY real and tangible to the Scrum Team. For example, provide rich user personas or customer feedback.
  4. Invest more time in joint discussion and exploration of the WHAT and HOW. Accept that the “card” is not enough and you need to spend time in the “conversation” to further articulate and evangelize the Scrum Team with your product vision.
  5. Challenge and empower the Scrum Team to exceed business impact expectations by enhancing your product vision. Embrace the reality and opportunity that they have additional information you do not.
  6. This one is more common sense but a very common issue… Put aside dedicated focused time to write proper Epics, Features, Stories including clear benefits and acceptance criteria

Summary

Here is a convenient summary of the solutions discussed above:

Keynote Video Summary - Product Owner - Direct product execution using epics features stories.001

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