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If you’re not interfering with play, you shouldn’t be on the pitch

In the spirit of The Age Of Ultron, there will be no introduction or origin story on this blog.  Let’s make this nice and self contained and as time goes on and more blog entries are written here.  I am sure you will get the picture.  (Only two paragraphs in and we already have #MCU and football references.  Way to go.)

There is a saying in football (my US friends, that’s soccer to you and if this blog has reached you, I must be doing something right), “if you’re not interfering with play, you shouldn’t be on the pitch”.  Thinking about it, I am pretty sure it was coined by someone dreadful, but the basic idea is this.  In football, there is an “offside rule”.  It is a rule with good intentions but is complicated to the point of cliche.  In summary, it means that in particular circumstances, there are parts of the pitch you are not allowed to stand in.

So far so good right? Well, no.  There is an addendum that says this rule can be ignored if you “are not interfering with play”.  And this is where the troubles start.  Just by being on the pitch, anywhere on the pitch, you should have an influence, right?  And if not, you may as well be sat in the stands.

Sorry, I forgot, this is an agile blog.  Not a rant about the pedantries of sporting pundits.

This rule comes to mind whenever I see people trying too hard to state business value when writing a story.  So, I propose a new rule that goes like something like this.

Do not over-engineer the writing of a story to crowbar in some vague business value such as “so that we can make more profit for the company”.  Instead write value clauses to clearly explain the benefit of the story, whatever it is.  “Make our development process quicker”, “simplify our code so we can go quicker in the future”, “upgrade so we stay on supported versions”.  That has to be enough.  Who cares if it is not “business, business, business, money, money, money” speak?

You can step back in all of the above examples to explain the business value if challenged.  But let’s keep the value clause meaningful so you don’t up with drivel like “so that our sales staff can sell stuff”.

However, if when asked what the value of a story is, you cannot easily explain why it is a good thing to any sane and reasonable person, then you are not interfering with anything and must question whether you should be doing that story at all.  You may as well be sitting in the stands.

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