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Author: Nancy Y. Nee

Developing Effective Agile Requirements Relies On Both User Stories And Use Cases

There is a common misconception that Agile replaces the need for use cases with user stories. Questions on this topic have been posted on social network sites such as Skillsharks, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The question shouldn’t be “Do user stories replace use cases?” Rather, the question should be framed: “How do we leverage the power of use cases with user stories when developing effective Agile requirements?”

Many shy away from use cases within an Agile approach because they resemble the ways of elicitation and analysis from the Waterfall approach. However, regardless of how one approaches requirements analysis, the end goal is the same: help business users/stakeholders identify their true needs and translate them into requirements. For Agile requirements to be successful, both must be leveraged to get to the heart of the most appropriate business solution that brings value to the customer.

According to Chapter 6 in the BABOK® Guide, “…business analysts prioritize and progressively elaborate stakeholder and solution requirements in order to enable the project team to implement a solution that will meet the needs of the sponsoring organization and stakeholders. It involves analyzing stakeholder needs to define solutions that meet those needs, assessing the current state of the business to identify and recommend improvements, and the verification and validation of the resulting requirements.” To be successful, a business analyst needs to have strong facilitation, information elicitation, and process design skills. These are the core elements to building effective use cases.

In Agile, requirements are progressively elaborated. Each iteration or sprint allows business users/stakeholders to better define their needs to ensure the most effective development of solutions. These iterations or sprints rely on the user stories that the business user/stakeholder “tells” to concentrate on features that users value and interact with directly. These short scenarios of user expectations are just part of the user story process. User stories include two additional elements:

  1. Notes from further discussions about the story that help to clarify the expectations (Conversation)
  2. Intent of the story and validation tests that will confirm to the user that the story, when delivered, does what it is expected to do (Confirmation)

Requirements Visioning—The Key To Using Use Cases In Agile

Before the Agile team begins to collect the detailed requirements that describe the features of the system, it is vital that the overall vision and purpose of the project is identified. This also includes the product vision. The product vision acts as the boundaries of the project in which the iterative, incremental work takes places. The product vision should answer the following three questions:

  1. What describes the product?
  2. Why is the product useful?
  3. What features will attract customers to this product?

This is the first place we begin to see the power of integrating user stories that are being gathered with the elicitation technique of use case modeling. Figure 1 is a graphical representation of how we see use cases being leveraged during this process.

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Setting the product vision from a requirements perspective is the most important element when building a solution. This sets the parameters to ensure that we deliver what is needed as well as marks the end point when it comes to tracing requirements.

Why And When To Use Use Cases In Agile?

Use cases are diagrams that demonstrate the actors and their goals. Actors are typically people or systems and the goals are what the actor is trying to achieve. Use cases in Agile help to define who needs to do what with the system and begin to identify the business value of that interaction.

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On Agile projects, it is typically best to leverage the power of use cases not only from the project perspective, but also the product. From a project perspective, it is a great way to demonstrate, in a visual and easy to understand format, the scope of the ‘who needs what’ for this project. From the product vision perspective, it is also great for starting to envision requirements of a system that is user driven as well as to identify Themes and Features.

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In Agile, there are four levels of requirements. Themes are used to describe larger requirements that may include multiple features within it. Features are a collection of related stories. These two levels offer a great opportunity to use use cases because they can provide a simple visual representation of the product scope and allow for improved prioritization of the requirements. The other two levels are a bit more detailed and are known as Epic and Story. Epic is used to describe a Story that is too big to get done within an iteration/sprint and needs to be broken down into smaller chunks. Finally, Story is the smallest valuable business requirement that follows the INVEST attributes.

Effective Agile requirements rely heavily on use cases and user stories. Remember that user stories focus on the features that users expect to be available when they use the finished product. They are meant to express short scenarios of user expectations that help business analysts on an Agile team dive deeper into connecting those expectations with delivering the appropriate solution value. Use cases are used to help with the value analysis for the user, thus enabling appropriate prioritization of the product backlog. 

There is no set prescription on when exactly to use use cases and user stories. Both are required to help prioritize the product backlog and both are used to better understand the customer need and where the customer places value on what needs to be delivered. Using use cases and user stories is needed on Agile projects, however the timing of when to leverage them is dependent upon the type of Agile project that the team is working on.

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2013: An Exciting Year For Business Analysts

If you ever watched the 1970s sitcom, “The Jeffersons,” you know the tune, “Now we’re up in the big leagues…” This theme song is making a comeback in 2013, but this time for business analysts (BAs)!

The new year brings new trends in requirements, collaboration, Agile, and the role of the BA, to name a few. Agile adoption and implementation will fall on the BA and user stories will be repurposed for BAs to use in an Agile environment. The role of the BA is expanding and their value is being recognized. Translation: this is an exciting year to be a business analyst!

Take a look at what is coming your way this year:

  1. The roles of the business analyst and product owner will be solidified and respected
    The BA’s role in an Agile project is to work with the product owner to help define the priority of the backlog to bring the customer the greatest value. Product owners make decisions about what the backlog is and which items should be developed first. In 2013 product owners will come to respect the role of the BA and better understand their own roles in the process, resulting in improved results from Agile projects.
  2. Strong user stories will be the force driving effective requirements analysis and product backlog prioritization. If a BA is working with a product owner, then his or her focus should be on eliciting and analyzing user stories, allowing for better prioritization of the product backlog. BAs will increasingly understand that successful user stories rely heavily on what they already know about requirements management and development (RMD). The BA’s RMD skills will be the foundation for successful Agile projects. Practice makes perfect, and in 2013 there will be a major push forward in better user story development.
  3. In 2013 it’s all about collaboration and convergence 
    The goal of Agile is to deliver a workable, usable product every four to six weeks. This goal weighs heavily on the role of the BA to help identify the “what” that the product owner needs, its value, and its priority. Consensus-driven approaches to RMD take longer and often do not achieve what the customer really wants. Accordingly, BAs will focus on elicitation skills that are based on collaboration and convergence of requirements to deliver working products on a regular basis.
  4. BAs will become the new PMs through Agile
    Regardless of title, “project managers” are not the only people who lead projects. In Agile, everyone, theoretically, is a “generalizing specialist,” meaning the Agile team has multiple, complementary skills to support the delivery of iterations on a project. In 2013 more BAs will take on this generalizing specialist role to help “manage” the iteration scope, develop better defined user stories, and prioritize the product backlog. As a result, there will be an uptake in training for BAs in core project management skills such as planning and estimating, risk, and team collaboration.
  5. BAs will be seen as the keystone to adopting Agile
    Since the BA’s core focus is on gathering requirements, organizations will realize that if they are to be successful in their Agile projects, they need highly trained professionals able to map out the AS-IS, define the TO-BE and work with the project owner to make it happen. Requirements gathering is the core function of the job and the people assigned to this important role will be seen for what they are: the keystone of success. Will this new appreciation for BAs mean an increase in IIBA’s CBAP® certification? Not if organizations don’t know about it or realize its value.
  6. The U.S. federal government will slowly recognize the value of business analysis as it becomes more Agile. Requirements management is a recognized problem within government, but, the federal government has been slow to embrace the BA title and role. However, the role of the BA has not been diminished. In fact, better RMD is a key driver for Agile in the government space, and as Agile is used on a greater number of projects, the value of business analysis as a separate discipline — practiced by highly qualified professionals — will become more apparent. With shrinking budgets and fiscal cliffs, Agile, and the BAs who practice it, just might be the extra “fire power” the government needs.
  7. Strategic enterprise analysis will become the foundation of business architecture
    Strategic enterprise analysis focuses on defining the value streams of an organization by analyzing the impact of core business processes and business capabilities to achieve strategic goals. Business architecture leverages the skills of the BA to create and maintain a set of business-owned information assets that serve as a blueprint for planning and execution of strategy. The purpose of business architecture is to define the “what” of a business, such as what it does, what it needs to meet goals, etc., which perfectly aligns with the skills of the BA. More companies will be looking to senior BAs to step into the emerging role of business architect.
  8. BA Centers of Excellence will focus on proving their worth and driving innovation
    In 2013, the BA COEs will concentrate on staffing (with senior BAs to fulfill the role of business architect) and on establishing a common, enterprise-level business language and framework for documenting how the business is structured. This will set the stage for defining the “what” of a business as it relates to strategic project investments. This trend goes hand-in-hand with the 2013 PM trend of project management offices focusing on proving their worth and driving innovation.
  9. Modeling skills take precedence in business analysis training
    Modeling techniques will be a key focus area for BAs in 2013 as these tools will become critical in depicting the impact of solutions on the business. As such, the written word will continue to slowly lose its appeal and significance when describing solutions and impact to customers.
  10. Communicating “up” will become critical to articulating requirements’ impact on a deliverable.  In most cases, BAs understand the effect a requirement has on the solution, as they are intimately aware of the needs of the business. However, many BAs struggle to communicate the impact of these requirements to a broad spectrum of people, especially those at higher levels in the organization. BAs will recognize that their careers will be limited if they cannot have these crucial conversations and, consequently, they will concentrate on how to communicate “up” through practice, training and mentoring. In doing this, the BA will be viewed as even more of an invaluable resource and a main point of contact for business capabilities.

Every new year, in every industry, change is inevitable. In 2013 business analysts have many challenges to face, but also many exciting changes to look forward to, including some well-deserved acknowledgement. Prepare yourself for what is around the corner: more responsibility coupled with more respect, a bigger burden to prove the worth of the BA and a bigger realization of the BA’s expertise by the organization. This is an exciting year for BAs in general; make it a meaningful and successful one for you.

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Finding The Right Blend: Sometimes Pure Agile Isn’t The Way To Go

Agile Hybrid/Blended Approach

Only a fraction of organizations will migrate to Agile methods completely and for all projects. The reality is, many types of projects are not well suited for Agile approaches for a variety of reasons. Some organizations run multiple projects across many departments and corporate entities, many of which may not have the inclination or resources to manage in an Agile manner. Others have made significant investments in traditional or proprietary methodologies and are not prepared to simply abandon them. Further, many companies are global, with development resources located around the world, in different time zones, with varying local corporate cultures and working styles. 

For all of these reasons, Agile project managers need to be prepared to work in cooperation with non-Agile project managers, teams that employ traditional methods, and organizations that have resources scattered around the globe.

How the Blended Approach Works 

Agile adoption doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing, either-or scenario. The very incremental, iterative concepts that Agile project managers (PMs) apply to their projects can also be applied to Agile adoption. For instance, teams that are migrating to Agile methods can adopt certain elements, such as user stories in place of requirements definition, and incremental, rather than “big-bang” planning, as ways to ease into the Agile migration. While these incremental methods will not offer all of the advantages of the total Agile environment, they have the advantage of being less disruptive to existing approaches and offer “proof points” to reassure managers and teams that these methods can deliver the expected results.

Where Agile Fits 

There are a number of areas where the Agile method can fit into a non-Agile project. Remember that the success of Agile methods revolves around the customer and the team. It is really about collaborating at all levels of the project. When they work in concert with one another, the project deliverables are much easier to complete. In your Waterfall or non-Agile project, look for places where you can easily adopt the top four key Agile methods: 

  • Iterative delivery of customer value
  • Early and frequent customer feedback
  • Working in highly collaborative, multifunctional teams
  • Continuous inspection and adaptation

The preceding methods are based on the Agile Manifesto’s value statement. The focus of the Manifesto is on the following: 

  • Individuals and interactions
  • Working software
  • Customer collaboration
  • Responding to change

Take a look at your Waterfall project and identify where you can leverage the power of customer involvement. Typically, you will be able to modify your Communication Plan, Stakeholder Management Plan and Risk Management Plans with an Agile approach. This proactive approach will allow you to ensure that impediments, which delay delivery of product, are managed and eliminated. 

Proof Points 

Because Agile methods focus on the customer, team, iterative delivery, and continuous adaptation or change, it is recommended that Waterfall-focused organizations begin to test the waters of Agile by using “proof points.” Proof points are areas within a Waterfall project where you can “prove” the power of Agile elements. Not only will this help move the project forward, but also, it highlights the value of the Agile methodology and helps an organization transition from using 100% Waterfall approaches to Agile methods. 

Good opportunities to show proof points are within the planning, requirements and team communications areas of a project. 

  • Start by approaching the work on a project by not only planning the entire project, but also planning the specifics of how a certain work package can be delivered. 
  • Implement the practice of user stories to define the requirements differently.
  • Leverage the power of daily stand-up meetings (5 to 10 minute meetings in which everyone stands to keep things brief ). They allow the project team members the opportunity to share work progress and possible obstacles that may lead to challenges in completing the work package.
  • Use daily stand-up meetings to empower the team members to have open communication, while supporting each other to eliminate impediments.

These areas begin to shift an organization’s mindset on how projects can be delivered differently. They offer the opportunity for organizations to embrace Agile while in the comfort of traditional project management. 

Not One Size Fits All 

It is important to recognize that Agile project management is not a one-size-fits-all philosophy. In fact, a foundational concept of Agile is the idea that every project should be considered as a unique entity, and PMs must make determinations for each unique effort regarding the amount of documentation, process rigor and management oversight required. This adaptive approach to project management also enables the ability to interweave elements of traditional project management into an Agile approach.

There’s no reason why an Agile approach cannot have a Gantt chart if managers or stakeholders request one—as long as it’s made clear that the chart will only schedule out as far as the iteration or release currently being built. The knowledge areas, process areas and artifacts of traditional project management are still applicable in an Agile environment, as long as they are adapted to the core concepts of incremental, iterative design and change readiness. Agile methods are called “adaptive” for a reason. Agile project managers need to remind their stakeholders and teams that agility is the very opposite of rigidity and inflexibility. Both the substantive and human elements of change must be considered, and the transition should be made to an Agile environment that is appropriate to the culture and practices of an organization.

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The Softer Side of Agile: Leading Collaborative Teams to Success

FEATUREJuly3rdThe Agile Manifesto places customer collaboration over contract negotiation with a keen focus on a highly skilled, motivated team in constant interaction with the product and the customer at every phase of the project. As a result of this collaborative, customer-centric view, Agile requires more than the technical expertise needed to gather requirements, and develop and test new product lines. It requires soft skills, leadership competencies and an understanding of how to apply those skills in a more malleable, people-focused setting. As practitioners know, collaboration brings a set of challenges. With the Agile approach, project managers are called upon to team up with customers in a constant stakeholder dialogue.

Constant customer collaboration provides great opportunities to measure project success by gauging the level of customer satisfaction throughout each life cycle of the project. It creates the framework for faster time-to-market and a more nimble process to deliver successful project outcomes. When it comes to successful agile project delivery, collaboration also is key for the integrated project team.

What Makes Good, Effective Collaboration?

To begin to understand, we should first take a look at the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto. These principles, which are the building blocks of Agile, identify three areas that lend themselves to successful collaboration. These principles are as follows:

  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Projects need to be built around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Based on the above three principles, successful collaboration among the team relies heavily on three key factors:

  • Feedback
  • Communication
  • Motivation


How does feedback work in a team environment? What is the most successful way to deliver it on an Agile project? Remember that feedback during the iterative development work of an Agile project must increase awareness and insight as well as foster innovation, yielding positive alternatives. Having the business as part of the core Agile project team creates the environment for continuous feedback and an opportunity to take positive risks in doing things differently, which is the very nature of why the project is being done in an Agile setting. Within the iteration work, it is essential to provide feedback that:

  • Contains a clear purpose
  • Is specific and descriptive
  • Offers positive alternatives

For all members of the Agile project team, it is important to identify what to start, stop and continue doing when it comes to iteration work. This is where effective feedback is most often used. You can easily integrate these practices into your daily stand up meetings to prepare for the day’s work.



What makes effective communication? When it comes to communication, it is important to deliver information in a manner that is understood by the receiver, which means that we need to get past the receiver’s filters and ensure that the individual understood the intended message. To get past those filters, we, as the sender of this message, have a responsibility to understand how our receiver takes in information. Does he communicate in a direct manner? Is she considerate in her messaging? Understanding your receiver’s communication style will help you provide feedback that enables effective dialogue.



When you combine productive feedback with effective communication, the foundation for motivation has been established. Motivation is built on encouragement, partnership and compromise without making concessions that damage trust. Working together to ensure that barriers, impediments and unrealistic expectations do not derail the creative impulses of the team brings about team unity. When the Agile PM delegates to team members the authority and responsibility to complete features to which they’ve committed, the Agile PM has created an environment of trust, partnership and self-directedness. By creating this environment, the team can discover their patterns of working,

The soft side of Agile is just as important as the technical side of Agile. Both sets of skills are required and dependent upon each other for success in the Agile environment. Given what you just read, ask yourself, how soft is your Agile team?

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Future Leaders Learning Program Puts Business Analysis at Core


The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc. is a leading property and casualty insurance provider based in Worcester, Massachusetts in the United States. The company distributes its products through independent agents across the country. Established in 1852, The Hanover has grown to rank among the top 30 property and casualty insurers in the United States with more than 4,000 employees.

The Challenge

One of the core skill sets identified as being critical to The Hanover’s continued business success is that of business analysis. For the past five years, The Hanover has partnered with ESI International to deliver instructor-led learning to business analysts in its technology division. There were, however, business analysts in the business areas of the company as well.

With approximately 200 business analysts across the company, The Hanover’s leadership sought to formalize an enterprise wide strategy for positioning the business analyst role as a pipeline for analytical and operational roles. With the implementation of its Future Leaders Program in 2009, work was begun on developing a consistent profile for entry-level business analyst talent at The Hanover.

The challenge before ESI and The Hanover was to develop a learning program for the Future Leaders Program effort that could indoctrinate new team members within various business units quickly and focus on raising the bar for the entire company, steering a course for continuous leadership development.

The Strategy

With approximately 200 business analysts stretching across multiple lines of business, bringing enterprise-wide focus to this role as a career-growth opportunity is a winning strategy.

Planning for the program focused on a number of key strategic goals, including:

  • Identifying and effectively recruiting outstanding university students and recent graduates
  • Determining a consistent, common approach and language around business analysis
  • Delivering learning through a range of modalities to ensure skills and knowledge are reinforced and effectively applied

The Hanover chose to partner with ESI International to guide the development and implementation of this new program. “It was clear that they were the ideal choice as our partner for this program,” said Irene Brank, Assistant Vice President and Director of The Hanover’s Future Leaders Program. “Their direction, commitment and support have helped us chart the path to this initiative.”

The Solution

The first task was to map a set of core competencies for the Future Leaders Program, which was divided into two broad career focus areas: business management and risk management. Assessment tools to effectively benchmark and evaluate the progress of program participants were also developed.

Once recruited into the two-year program, candidates are assigned an IT or non-IT career track. At the conclusion of the two years, candidates will find placement in a role that allows them to continue to grow their career. To ensure participants have the skills and knowledge they need to be leaders, the Future Leaders Program guides participants through a range of learning opportunities:

  • Traditional instructor-led classroom curricula
  • Reinforcement workshops delivered in person and via webinars
  • A participant forum promoting formal group interaction, including program coaches
  • Corporate-wide access to online reference materials
  • Practical, on-the-job application of new skills and knowledge
  • Continued mentoring after program completion

The program’s design ensures that learning and reinforcement take place before, during and after classroom training. Pre-class webinars create a foundation that prepares participants for specific learning events and reinforcement workshops conducted after courses further reinforce key competencies.

“We believe that offering a range of learning opportunities greatly increases the program’s success,” said Ken Joseph, Business Learning Manager, The Hanover. “By combining what we could offer in-house with ESI’s various, interactive modalities, we’ve achieved a robust solution.”

The Future Leaders Program also offers coaching and mentoring, as well as the opportunity to earn professional and technical certifications including Actuarial, Business Analysis, and INS certifications.

As university graduates progress through the program, the company’s current leaders also undergo targeted learning based upon position and role, which promotes consistent knowledge across the organization. These include:

  • Traditional, instructor-led classroom courses
  • Executive level workshops and webinars that overview key program knowledge areas
  • Skill specific workshops and webinars


The Future Leaders Program builds upon the success of the two companies’ partnership which has demonstrated:

  • Significant improvements in project completions and adherence to budgets
  • A dramatic reduction in project change requests
  • A reduction in project errors
  • Faster time to market for new products

While still in the early stages, the Future Leaders Program has begun to deliver decisive impact by:

  • Charting a clear and fast track for new leadership
  • Defining a consistent approach and language around business analysis
  • Improving recruiting and retention
  • Increasing organization-wide competency in business analysis

Each year, approximately 75 future leaders are accepted into the program. At this rate almost 10 percent of the company will have completed the leadership program in the next five years.

Planning Forward

The Hanover and ESI are identifying ways to further enrich the program. Specific considerations include:

  • Enhancing The Hanover’s company-wide business analysis methodology
  • The addition to the core learning program of a “live” practicum project
  • Inclusion of a set of business consulting and skills curricula focused on such topics as financial literacy, critical thinking and leading organizational change
  • Inclusion of additional project management specific curricula
  • Executive workshops to refine the mentoring skills of those managing Future Leaders Program participants to help them more effectively reinforce the program’s competencies
  • Ongoing individual and organizational assessments to add value and uncover areas for greater learning emphasis

“Despite the early stage status of the program, it’s already delivering clear benefits to us,” said Greg Tranter, Senior Vice President and COO, The Hanover. “Much of the benefit is a direct result of the emphasis we’re placing on business analysis for decision making, which is changing the way our company approaches its decisions.”

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Nancy Y. Nee, PMP, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director, Project Management & Business Analysis Programs, ESI International, provides thought leadership in the field of project management and business analysis while incorporating the industry’s best practices and professional advances into ESI’s portfolio of project management and business analysis courses and services. She is a member of numerous professional associations including the Project Management Institute (PMI®), the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), and the Scrum Alliance where she is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) from the PMI®, Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) from the (IIBA®), and a Certified Scrum Master from the Scrum Alliance.