Rediscovering Business Benefits
Outcomes and the business value that we’re seeking to release in pursuing those outcomes all too often get passed over in favour of a morass of implementation trivia.
Desired business outcomes frame the delivery of application functionality, or more generally, service capabilities: they motivate software development. The outcome-driven bias of agile practices is reflected in the user story: in the Role-Feature-Benefit story sequence (see Dan North’s What‘s in a story for a description of these parts, and more recently Elizabeth Keogh’s RIP As a… I want… So that… for a compelling reformulation of the story format).
Sadly, many instances of stories try and get by without capturing outcomes and benefits. As one of the commentators on Elizabeth’s post notes: “the ‘so that’s’ are always the hardest thing to write in a story and are the first thing to be omitted.”
I see a lot of stories that neglect Role-Feature-Benefit in favour of the much easier Role-How-Feature. That is: as a <role> I want <something doing this way> so that <I can do this/this happens>:
As a user I want to export results so that I can share them with colleagues
Well, thanks for telling me how to do my job, and not telling me anything about what motivates yours.
Have we specified an outcome here? Not really. What we do have is a misplaced feature masquerading as an outcome, and a pre-emptive description of how to implement that feature. We’ve shuffled the desired outcome, the goal that motivates this feature, off the table. And by pre-emptively specifying an implementation, we’ve limited the opportunity for choosing between several implementation strategies – lo-fi, hi-fi – come implementation time.
When I spot stories like this, I try to “force” the issue of outcomes and benefits by performing a “shift left” on the story parts. Role stays the same, Feature shifts left, and squeezes How out. This leaves: as a <role> I want <to do this/this to happen> so that <??????>:
As a user I want share results with colleagues so that…
Now we’ve got a role, and a feature, and can start asking “why?” regarding the benefit:
As a user I want share results with colleagues so we can make an informed group decision about recent performance
Identifying the benefit allows us to turn the effort dial up and down. You need to do this, urgently? How about this workaround? Estimate: zip.