The Definition of Ready

Posted on Thursday 16th December 2010

Summary

High-priority product backlog items must be ready to be transformed into working software. Find out what does “ready” means and benefit from Yoda’s advice.
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“Ready are you? What know you of ready?” says Yoda to Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back”. Just as it’s important for Luke to understand what “ready” means, so is it for product owners. Luckily, you don’t have to train as a Jedi for many years to find out. A few minutes will do.

Why Ready Matters

The idea that the high-priority product backlog items should be “ready” or “workable” dates back to the first Scrum book published in 2002. Ready items can be pulled into the sprint by the team and quickly turned into a product increment, as the following image illustrates.

If the user stories that are likely to be worked on in the next sprint aren’t ready, then the team cannot create a product increment. It is therefore important to ensure that there are enough ready items on the product backlog. Consequently, my Product Canvas uses a dedicated ready section, as the picture below shows:

What Ready Means

A “ready” item should be clear, feasible and testable, as I suggest in my book Agile Product Management with ScrumA story is clear if all Scrum team members have a shared understanding of what it means. Collaboratively writing user stories, and adding acceptance criteria to the high-prtiority ones facilitates clarity.

An item is testable if there is an effective way to determine if the functionality works as expected. Acceptance criteria ensure that each story can be tested. As a rule of thumb, I like to employ three to five acceptance criteria per user story.

A story is feasible if it can be completed in one sprint, according to the definition of done. This implies two things: The item must be small enough, and it must not be too complex. I prefer to work with stories that can be implemented and tested within a few days by the way, as this allows the product owner to provide feedback on the software during the sprint.

Ready stories are the output of the product backlog grooming work. To put it differently, your grooming activities should result in ready stories.

What a Ready Story Looks Like

A ready story is a detailed user story with a narrative and acceptance criteria. It should also be clear if there are any story-specific operational qualities such as performance, and  what user interface design should roughly look like. I prefer to capture the qualities on constraint cards, and the design on a piece of paper. The artefacts are simply attached to the story, as the picture below illustrates:

Summary

“A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind,” continues Yoda in the Star Wars episode. Similarly, you should be committed as the product owner to creating high-priority product backlog items that are clear, feasible, and testable.

Remember: A sprint is a function that takes high-priority items and turns them into a product increment. If you don’t pay attention to what goes into a sprint, it’s garbage in, garbage out. And garbage, as we know from the first Star Wars movie, is not a good place to be stuck in.