Tuesday, July 14, 2015

User Story Taboo

For my agile workshops I created a little game called "User Story Taboo" which I'm using to teach attendees how to write user stories. Here's the game description.


4 - 16


  • about 60 - 90 minutes (normal version)
  • about 90 - 120 minutes (extended version)

Goal and description

The goal of the game is to make participants understand how they can write good user stories.

User Story Taboo is based on the board game "Tabu" where teams have to describe words and terms without using certain forbidden words.

The participants will write user stories but they will be forbidden to use certain words. This is to show participants that no one needs user stories like "As a server I want to...". They shall learn the pros when not only defining the functionality but also who it is for and how he/she will benefit from it.

We are doing this by writing stories for an extended version of battleship. The rules for battleship are well known, thus we can concentrate more on writing the stories instead of discussing the rules of battleship.

Forbidden words

to look at
product owner
game producer


  • Print requirements
  • Write forbidden words on flipchart or print them


  • Divide participants into groups of max. 4 people
  • Give each group a part of the requirements. Ideally each group has the same amount of requirements


Round 1: Write user stories

Explain to the participants that good user stories describe who wants to have something, what he/she wants and why he/she wants it. In my experience providing the common template "As <role> I want to have <functionality> so that I have <value>" helps the participants in writing their first user stories. Show and explain the forbidden words.

Now let the participants write their user stories. Sometimes this takes 2-3 iterations until the stories meet all the requirements (who, what, why) and omit all the forbidden words.

Round 2: Acceptance criteria

Explain acceptance criteria.

Let groups select 2 user stories from round 1 and make them write acceptance criteria for them (encourage participants to be creative here :)

Extended Version: Groups don't select the stories but each group writes the acceptance criteria for all their stories from round 1.

Round 3: Identify epics

Explain epics and the lifecycle of a requirement (Requirement -> Epic -> User Story -> Task, etc.). The rules from the ebook "5 Rules for Writing Effective User Stories" are a good basis and orientation.

Let participants take a look at the written stories and make them identify epics and user stories.

Extended version

Round 4: Split stories or epics

Explain how to identify stories that are too large (e.g. words like and, or, but, etc.)

Let groups select 2 user stories or epics and make them split these stories/epics.


Show and explain participants possibilities to manage the backlog. Some possibilities:

You can also find all the materials in German and English on Github.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why the Shenmue 3 kickstarter campaign is a smart move

About a week ago during Sonys press conference on the E3 the kickstarter campaign for Shenmue 3 was revealed. There has been a lot of criticism ever since, mostly stating that this is the new "pre-order bonus" in the gaming industry. Being a gamer myself, I am not really fond of all the pre-order bonuses aswell as the DLC strategies applied for many games. Let me tell you why I think the Shenmue 3 kickstarter campaign was actually quite a smart move.

The risk of Shenmue 3

Despite high critical acclaim Shenmue 1 and 2 were not too succesful regarding sales according to various statistics (see here, here and here). The first installment is even considered a commercial failure and had a total cost of about 70 million US$. Remember that this was back in 1999. Final Fantasy XIII, which came out 10 years later, had a total cost of about 65 million US$. Furthermore it is now already 14 years ago that Shenmue 2 came out for the Dreamcast and Xbox. In the meantime we've seen the rise of Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto III, IV and V, Dota 2, League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI - XIV. Meaning there are a lot of new games and game series that are consumed by the gamers. These factors add up to a high risk for a possible third installment of the series. Former Sega producer Stephen Forst confirmed this in a few tweets from 2013 stating that the risk was to high and that the brand awareness is probably rather low.

The Kickstarter campaign as MVP

So when they (meaning Sony and Suzuki Yu) started the Kickstarter campaign they actually created a minimum viable product. Other than a simple community vote they found actual customers who are willing to pay money in order to be able to play Shenmue 3. For Sony, who were in from the start (although stating otherwise in the beginning) the successful funding of the 2 million US$ Kickstarter campaign within the first 2 days was reason enough to count the MVP as successful and to officially support the game as publisher, partner and stakeholder. Given the "official" definition of an MVP they have done everything right:
Once the MVP is established, a startup can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect question.

The pros for the gamers

Even though there are other voices saying that the campaign is just another kind of the pre-ordner madness in the gaming industry, I think this is not the case. First, other than when pre-ordering a game I don't have to pay the full price. The lowest pledge that contains a digital copy of the game is $29:

Furthermore not only will the gamers get frequent updates on the game progress but from the lowest pledge on the supporters already have the possibility to influence the direction of the game:


I understand that gamers are fed up with all the pre-order madness and the DLC strategy of today publishers. Nevertheless I think the that Kickstarter campaign is a good thing. For Sony it is a definitive proof that given the risks there seem to be enough gamers willing to pay. For us gamers it is a possibility to get a game we want and even influence parts of it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

How to measure productivity

A few days ago I was having a discussion on how to measure productivity (I will not elaborate on if you should measure it all, that is for another blogpost). We came up with a few metrics that might be useful indicators.

Hit rate

That is the actual story points achieved in the sprint divided by the commited/forecasted story points.
Example: You commited 52 story points, but you have only achieved 37. Your hit rate is 71%.

Bugs per sprint + their average lead time

Track how many bugs are opened for your team/product per sprint. The idea is: the less bugs arise, the higher the quality of your software and the less you are sidetracked by bugfixing. Naturally this indicator works best if you fix bugs instantly and don't collect them in a bugtracker.
Also: track the average lead time it takes to fix bugs. The less time it consumes, the less you are sidetracked. Try adding a policy for this (for example: "We try to fix every bug in 24 hours").

Impediments per sprint + their average lead time

Track how many impediments arise per sprint and their average lead time. The less things you have, that impede you, the more productive you should be. Also: the faster you can remove these impediments, the higher your productivity should be.

Amount of overtime / crunch time

We were a bit unsure about this one. How much does it really say about productivity? In my opinion you should only do overtime in absolutely exceptional situations. In my opinion if you need overtime (or crunch time) there is something fundamentally flawed in the way you do your work. My theory is, that overtime is taken when planning badly. This can be either because you (constantly) plan too much and/or there are way too few people to do the work you want to be done. If you want to track this, make sure that people are able to provide their overhours anonymously.

Reuse rate

One thing we were completely unsure about is the reuse rate (how many of your code is getting reused?). The idea was that the less you reinvent the wheel over and over again, the more productive you should be. But how to track this? The only things we came up with was to run c&p-detection/duplicate-code-detection. Is this a valid metric in this case? What if you have multiple projects? If you have any ideas for this one, please let me know in the comments.

Don't: Velocity

Don't use your velocity as an indicator for productivity. First it is very easy to manipulate and chances are about 99% that it will be. Second every team has its own velocity, meaning there is no qualitative information about productivity to be found here.

So far we haven't tested these metrics yet as indicators for productivity. If we should start to do so, I will gladly let you know about any outcomes. If you should have any more ideas on how to measure productivity, please let me know in the comments below.