Monday 20 July 2015

Describing value using Situation Cards

EDIT: I have since found out that Situation Cards are really similar to Social Story and Comic Book Conversations.... read more here

A while back I wrote about situation cards, which Dan Rushton and I came up to help connect developers with the reason why we were doing a particular story.

Our team works on systems where we are essentially passing messages between different services which is particularily difficult (read: boring) to demonstrate in the review. We all hate Powerpoint but looking at Fiddler or SoapUI is way more dull.

Dan's brainwave was to use the situation cards to introduce the stories we had worked on during the review. The feedback from the stakeholders was excellent and they wanted to see this happening earlier in the process.

We now include making situation cards as a part of our prep sessions. We ask the team "How would you explain the value of this story?", putting them in the place of the customer. Sometimes a single card with a one-liner can be used, usually it takes a mini dialog to explain the value:

In the example above, the value stems from additional information to help the customer pin down issues in an area of logic which is hidden from them. By handling the error differently we can show which data item is the cause allowing our customer to find the problem in the logic that drives the output from simply asking the customer which data item are showing as errors.

You might notice that it took me a lot more words to describe this than we used in the situation cards but the level of detail is essentially the same.

This does not happen by accident - a series of conversations happened before we came up with the dialog in the situation cards. The words are not accidental, we arrived at them through discussion.

The cards provide context which helps but they also act as a constraint. At a very simple level, we have very little room! Further, when we are writing them, we are thinking about how we will read these during the review - they need to be short and direct otherwise you sound like a crazy person.

We can easily refactor conversations to convey the value in as few cards as possible by changing the dialog and removing cards.

We have a series of these to represent different situations - we usually use the man on mobile to covey the customer and the man at the workstation to represent the response from the team. We also have a man in a call centre to represent interactions with our customer's customer which has come in handy too.

These become Powerpoint presentations which we then use as initial storyboards in TFS - we simply attach them as storyboards which are stored on our local network. We create them in prep and then use them when we introduce the story to the team to kick start the understanding of 'Why' we are doing this story, which is what we originally intended these cards for.

Interested to know if anyone else uses these or something similar - feel free to leave feedback if you have :)

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