A Scrum team’s success depends largely on the way the product backlog is structured. Are the right items being prioritized? Have the epics been sufficiently refined into smaller and cleared user stories to be picked up for sprints? Have all the dependencies for the user story been defined? It’s important that the developers know which story to pick up and an artifact that helps them do that is the Definition of Ready. This activity is an important part of backlog refinement that brings in a host of advantages to the Scrum team. This blog is an attempt to understand what Definition of Ready in Scrum is and why it matters.
Scrum works in short iterations called sprints, the end goal of which is a releasable product. The developers work on priority items, and these are picked up from the product backlog. The Product Owner orders the stories in the product backlog in terms of what needs to be released first.
The higher priority items are listed at the top of the product backlog, and these are the ones that the developers pull first to develop, complete and deliver. But the stories that are picked up need to be complete before they are picked up into the Sprint backlog. Which means that they must be complete enough and immediately actionable in order to start work on them.
So, in other words, a Definition of Ready is a checklist that allows the team to establish the right amount of work that would be required in order complete the story. A ready user story is detailed, has a narrative and meets the acceptance criteria.
Common characteristics of Definition of Ready (INVEST):
Scrum for a long time has had the ‘definition of done’ and by adding the ‘definition of ready’ it re-invented concepts surrounding the existing concepts in process modelling. According to the AgileAlliance, in:
The definition of ready helps to prevent potential risks before they start. A fully done story looks into all the parameters and pre-conditions before it is allowed into the sprint.
The definition of ready ensures that the story that has been completed has met all the criteria that are needed before it is pulled into an iteration.
For example, the team can set a pre-condition that a story must have only a certain number of story points in order to be allowed into an iteration. This cap on story points ensures that the story pulled into the iteration is of the size that can be handled by the team.
The team can also make sure that all external dependencies have been taken care of before admitting the story in the iteration. This will ensure that the dependencies do not become a bottle neck in the future.
The term actionable means that the story is ready to be picked up immediately and is free from all external dependencies.
The story must go through a thorough process of refinement before sprint planning, which means all the details, estimates and order have been added and agreed upon by the team and the product owner.
The business value provided by the story should measurable and clear to all.
The story must be estimated by the team and should be of a size that is agreeable and doable by the team.
The story should have cleared all acceptance tests.
The team should know how the story once completed will be demoed and discussed during the sprint review.
The definition of ready is an important activity to be carried out before the sprint sessions begin. Most organizations insist on having a comprehensive checklist to ensure that the story is completely ready and not just sort or ready. Why? Because of the benefits the definition of ready offers, such as:
The definition of ready for a sprint will have:
The definition of ready for a user story will have:
The definition of ready in Scrum is an important artifact that helps fast functioning Agile teams to maintain their momentum and start work on user stories without interruptions. These ‘ready’ items are immediately actionable as they are clear, feasible and tested. Definition of Ready is a useful negotiating tool that helps to chart out the exact expectations of what needs to be accomplished.