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Agile User Story Splitting – Low then High Fidelity + Build vs Buy

Rachael Wilterdink Rachael Wilterdink  |  
Dec 15, 2020
 
In this blog series, Rachael Wilterdink (CBAP, PMI-PBA, PSM I, CSM) dives into 25 different techniques for approaching story splitting that she has used throughout her career. Make sure to stop by each week to catch all 25!
 

User Story Splitting – Low-fidelity then High-fidelity

This is an approach that starts with building something that is very low fidelity and layering on improvements to the fidelity over time. I always think of the term “progressive elaboration” when I think of this technique for splitting stories. My favorite visual representation of this is the Mona Lisa:
 
mona lisa progressive elaboration
 
As you can see, low-fidelity starts with the most bare-bone version of something that you can get. It will be very “rough” looking, without any polish or attention to visual aesthetic. Over time, you would gradually improve upon that, adding on layer upon layer until you reach something that is of higher fidelity or quality.
 
Our original story for the Recipe app might be:
 

I want to see the details of a recipe that is fully polished, including visual treatment so that the recipe is aesthetically pleasing to me while I make a recipe.

There is probably a wide variation of what “polished” means to a user, but it could include different layers such as:
 
  • Color treatment
  • White space
  • Logo placement
  • Fonts
  • Professional photographs
 
I would split out stories along these lines and add them one at a time until all of them have been applied, and I have a high-fidelity version of my Recipe details view.
 
view recipe with color palette
view recipe with white space
view recipe with sans-serif font

Etc….
 
By doing this in layers rather than all at once, it will enable each version to be put in front of users to gather feedback so you can learn what is important to them in terms of aesthetics and usability, and what is not.
 

Questions to ask:

  • Do you need to have a lovely look-and-feel to start with, or can you build the basic functionality without caring about how it looks?
  • Is the app you’re building internal or external facing? If internal, how important is the level of polish?
  • Is your brand experience of high importance to your organization? If so, you’ll want to pay more attention to the level of fidelity.
 
This type of story splitting can apply not only to the look-and-feel, but also to the functionality (which I covered when discussing going from Simple to Complex). An example of this might be a simple version of a search functionality and elaborating on it to make it more complex over time.
 

User Story Splitting – Build vs Buy (and Buy vs Build)

In some cases, you may decide to split stories by a decision to build vs buy – or buy vs build. Sometimes it might make a lot of sense to build rather than buy something that may not fully meet the business need. And in other cases, the reverse might make more sense (if you can find a solution that meets your needs and is low enough cost).
 
An original story for my Recipe app could look like this:
 
double or halve recipe
 
In looking at this story, a development team might say this is something that would be really complicated to build and is a problem that someone has surely solved before. In researching the solution options, the team might discover that a pre-built solution for this exists and can be purchased and implemented for a nominal amount. Or, they might find the opposite is true – that no commercial solution to this requirement is available, and the only option is to build the functionality.
 
Given that there could be multiple options, I would probably split this out into a research spike to start with and would evaluate the output of the spike before choosing which direction to go. If the decision is taken to buy a solution, then the original story could remain as-is, and the tasks for the story would simply be to implement and test the solution. If the decision is to build, then I would need to blow out the original story into more granular stories. I would start by splitting the story into two: one for doubling a recipe, and one for halving.
 

Questions to ask:

  • Is the functionality something that is a common problem that people need to solve?
  • Are there commercially available options for purchase that could quickly and cheaply meet the business need?
  • Is the functionality complex enough that it would take a significant development effort to build?
  • Is the requested functionality a core function, or something that could be deferred until later?
 
In this case, I would argue that this is a bit of “nice to have” functionality, but I would really like it because I hate to do mental math. That aside, if it is a strongly desired function, then it would make sense to invest in it – whether the decision is to buy or build.
 
Agile

 

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