Agile foundations: The value of User Stories

We do what we do in order to change the world. This is especially true for organisations: from independent consultants to global super powers. So why do so many of us forget this and end up focussing on the wrong things for too long?

In this article, I’ll introduce you to ‘User Stories’ in real-life. This Agile story telling technique will encourage you to focus on outcomes and purpose (valuable change), rather than features and churn (the red herring). And you can start it straight away.

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Vocational serendipity; when career paths and real-life align

I don’t believe in Destiny. As someone who turns 40 very soon, and brought up on a loop of Star Wars movies served from a VHS video cassette player, I don’t suppose that’s all that uncommon.

han-solo-destinyNow that doesn’t mean I can’t accept coincidences and happy accidents. In fact, I try to make the most of opportunities when they present themselves. When conditions and the timing are right, what would stop you from taking the leap?

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The kindness of strangers; taking risks in our safe places

This month I’m travelling around the UK with my partner, to meet new people, to create and capture stories, to explore the land, and to try to reach a flow between work and life. The intent for this experiment is clear in my mind. And as ever, real-life is throwing up all sorts of surprises.

As we trundle through the towns and cities in our camper van, liveried in stand-out yellow flakey paint, with the unmistakable VW engine ‘burble’ noises, people smile. This happens everywhere we’ve been. From the lime tree-lined suburbs of large family homes, to neglected streets of houses with boarded up windows. People of all ages, and in all areas, look up as we pass. Many smile, and seem cheered to see us pootle on by. Some even wave. And we always smile and wave back. It cheers us up every time.

A big part of this journey is also about spending time, in person, with people I barely know. I want to get to know some of the folks who’ve inspired me, and have planned to meet up with lots of them throughout September. I had no idea how the reality of meeting people I’ve connected with through twitter, Slack teams, or by introduction from a mutual friend, will go. And of course, the uncertainty is mutual. How will others feel about meeting the real-life Sam?

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Agile Principles across the organisation; does Agile work in real-life?

There’s a growing trend in 2016 to introduce Agile principles and practices to new areas of business, or to the organisation as a whole. Can Agile— with its roots in software development — really deliver more value to the wider world?

This is a question I’ve been considering for years. I’ve worked in digital for a long time, and spent much of my time considering how to help the people in software teams to deliver value. Ideas like the Agile Manifesto, Agile Principles and related methodologies like XP, Scrum and Kanban, have been developed over the last 20 years, and I’ve explored, accepted and rejected many of them with software teams.

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My life is pretty much perfect

I glide through each moment of each day with a sense of calm, exceeding all my goals and personal ambitions with ease, and get to the gym several times a week. I always hit my professional and career targets, which means I’m able to spend lots of high quality time with my family and friends, and enjoy preparing and serving them delicious, freshly prepared 3 course meals every day. And to top it all off, I read the kids their favourite story every evening before indulging in eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

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Hidden gems and how sticking to the rules can bring unexpected joy to other people

The legal case for public accessibility is clear. The moral case can be debated. This is as true in tech and digital, as it is for our public buildings.

Last week, Dave, Chris and I took time out to explore issues concerning accessibility for web and mobile apps, and ended up discussing the differences between legal and moral responsibilities. It’s a subject all three of us have a keen interest in.

We’re reviewing our current accessibility position so we can give recommendations to our ace team of UI designers, and software engineers, so we can make sure the apps we ships to the public are right.

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Courage in the face of no other option

All the exercise, healthy eating, yoga, and meditation in the world can’t stop shit from happening. It’s not fair but sometime it just does.

This week I have heard the stories of two people handed awful circumstances; unfair, unavoidable and life changing. They will both need to find courage to face their challenges over the coming weeks as they deal with the changes. I’m sure they will. They’ll have to.

And it got me thinking about how brave we can become when the choice to do nothing is taken away. When the option to give up, or step aside, is no longer an option. And how when that happens we deal with the changes. Well, we have to.

So if you’re teetering on the edge of a decision but not feeling quite brave enough to make that leap, or maybe you’re questioning starting something new, or making a long-desired change, then ask yourself: if this was your only choice would you find the courage to see it through?

Maybe you’d find that you’re braver than you think, when there is no option not to be.

“I think the word ‘procrastinate’ has come to be viewed unfairly negatively” – Andy Swann

Last week I wrote about chronic procrastination, how I manage mine, and some of the ways my life has improved through productivity techniques. I have to tell you, I felt pretty good about publishing that story, and was eager to share the good news.

The piece was received well on Twitter, which made me feel even better. People began asking me more for details about how I’d beaten my procrastination demons, and even told me they might try some of the things that had worked for me, at some point. Procrastinators aren’t always that big on commitment. Believe me. I should know.

However, the conversation that piqued my interest, and pulled my head out of the ever-so-slightly-smug pat-on-the-back-aren’t-I-clever clouds came from Andy.

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Reflecting on the first week of story telling

This moment has been coming for a while now. Where I can look back on writing each day for a week.

  • I have shared: authentically, openly and consistently. As it should be.
  • Old friends have re-engaged: relationships are rekindling. Warming to my soul.
  • Strangers have introduced themselves: new friendships are emerging. The promise of new worlds.
  • I have challenged and developed my own thinking: interrogating and breaking down my preconceptions. This feels significant.
  • I have been called a dick: with a subsequent retraction. Thank you – you had a point!
  • I have been questioned about my intent: in a very gently way. Much appreciated – please don’t stop questioning.
  • I’ve been supported by the person closest to me: which means more than you can know x.

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