In the scrum methodology, the team selects the user stories from the product backlog, breaks them down into constituent tasks, and works on them. There are certain criteria user stories need to meet before the team selects them to be carried out in a sprint. Those criteria are what make up the definition of ready.
In this article, we explore the comprehensive definition of ready, how it applies to user stories, and how you can always ensure your user stories are always ready before you begin each sprint.
What is the “definition of ready”?
Definition of ready refers to the criteria that a scrum artifact or a component of the project management process needs to meet to be marked as good to go. It’s the set of factors you consider before saying a project management component is ready for its intended use.
Generally, the definition of ready applies to most scrum artifacts and project management components. But there’s no place where it’s more pronounced than with the user stories since this is the most significant choosing stage that determines what gets done and how it affects the rest of the product.
Why do we need a definition of ready?
It’s important to explain why ‘ready’ needs to be defined, specifically when dealing with user stories.
When a user story can be marked ‘ready’, it means it’s sufficiently set up for its intended use. This helps when the sprint starts so the team can focus completely on the sprint instead of patching up an unclear user story and trying to find a way around it.
Here are three key reasons why a definition of ready is essential for project management success:
1. Eliminates the need for back-and-forth
When there’s no clearly defined definition of ready for the user stories, work items get randomly chosen. With time, the scrum team realizes that the user story they’re working on falls short in several ways and as a result, they’ll need to keep running in circles with the product owner, patching up a half-baked user story and trying to make it work. On the other hand, if the user story is well-defined the scrum team can work without needing to pull the product owner to intermittently put out fires.
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2. Guarantees time and resource efficiency
The aim of project management is to meet targets on time and under budget. Having a clear definition of ready is critical to that.
Once the scrum team has enough information for the user story they’re working into a product feature, it brings clarity into the project delivery process. The scrum team can coordinate their resources to get more done with less, eliminating the need to clarify what a user story is supposed to cover.
3. Prevents burnouts
One of the key areas where a definition of ready applies is in the amount of work that’s needed to get a user story from to-do to done. It’s important to define this to ensure the user story doesn’t require more time than the sprint is designed to last. Otherwise, this would lead to team members burning out, trying hard and failing to meet the sprint’s targets. As a result, morale drops and affects future performance.
A clear definition of ready helps ensure all user stories can either fit in a sprint, are trimmed down to, or the sprint length is extended.
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How do you define ‘ready’?
Each team will have its own definition of ready, depending on the project it’s undertaking, the context, and the team itself. Each criterion in the definition of ready equips the team with the required information about the user story in question, in the absence of which it gives them an opportunity to get them clarified from the product owner. It also gives the team the confidence that all the user stories they select for the ongoing sprint are ready to be worked on.
A clear definition of ‘ready’ makes it easy to focus on getting results instead of wasting time and energy trying to get clarity on what exactly the scrum team is supposed to be working on.
Here are 6 key factors (INVEST) you need to consider when defining ready.
As much as possible, the user story in question must have little or no dependence on other user stories. This ensures that a sprint doesn’t stagnate, forcing the scrum team to divert their attention to other tasks that are not a part of the ongoing sprint.
A user story shouldn’t be set in stone. This is so that the scrum team can bring other applicable considerations into play—given they’ll be the ones working on the user story.
Before a user story is pushed to the sprint stage, what it’s going to add to the product and the end-users at large must be clearly defined.
The user story must be measurable so the scrum team can know when they’re progressing or stagnating. Even if the user story isn’t exactly measurable for the duration of the sprint, the scrum team should be able to approximate data that applies to it.
5. Small or manageable
Small enough to fit into a single sprint duration in order to avoid burnout on the team, indefinite extensions, or racing against the clock.
There must be a reasonable, reliable way the scrum team should be able to test their completed work to see if it meets their targets.
Here’s a sample definition of ready:
- The business value is clearly communicated
- The team can demo the feature
- The story has a short summary
- The story can fit into one sprint
- There are no external dependencies
When a user story does not align with these principles, it’s not ready and the team pushes back on it.
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Definition of done vs. definition of ready
The definition of done and the definition of ready are project management concepts that sound alike but are quite different. The definition of done is a set of acceptance criteria that a user story needs to meet when it’s done and all the essential activities are complete. The definition of ready, on the other hand, refers to a number of criteria that should be met before a user story is good to begin.
The definition of ready and the definition of done are two key points in the sprint cycle, the first deciding when the team starts working on a user story while the latter tells us when the feature being built is completed to an acceptable standard.
The definition of done determines if, and how well the scrum team can deliver sprint targets. Having a definition of ready doesn’t mean there won’t be the occasional gaps in the understanding of the user story and its preparation. By prequalifying user stories, the scrum team has the best possible conditions for delivering on time and with greater efficiency.