The Action Engineering team embraces an Agile mindset & Scrum practices in our work.
In our Agile articles, we share tips & coaching opportunities that work well for us.
Have you ever been humming along in a sprint, and then someone throws out a bombshell question such as “how does one boil the ocean?” While this is a very valid question, it’s going to take more than a two-week sprint to answer this.
There are so many uncertainties and unknowns that need to be solved before a user story can be written to address this question. You and your team might want to think about things such as:
- How warm do you need to get the ocean?
- What needs to happen to all of the sea creatures in the ocean while the water is boiling?
- Why does the ocean need boiling?
- Should the heating source come from renewable energy?
- How long does the ocean need to boil for?
- Are we boiling all seven oceans?
- Do we also need to boil the seas or just the oceans?
A question such as the one above would be better handled as a research spike than a user story. A research spike is a way to acknowledge that not enough is known about a story to estimate the size, decompose, and write acceptance criteria fully. With a research spike, we are giving ourselves time to figure things out and settle some of the unknowns.
A research spike doesn’t give us a free pass to spend oodles of time figuring out the unknowns. We set a time box to stay in line with our Agile methodology and scrum practices. Typically, research spikes must be completed in that sprint. Research spikes should be estimable, demonstrable, and acceptable.
Research spikes are treated like stories and kept in the backlog, and are sized to fit into the sprint. But unlike a story, a spike produces information – such as a decision, proof of concept, or answers to our questions – instead of an actual product or deliverable. Spikes are used as a tool to develop information to write additional user stories to be tackled in later sprints.
Think you or your team could use some help to better understand research spikes? Or do you just want to discuss the logistics of actually boiling an ocean? Send us a message – we’d love to chat about how to harness the power of the research spike!
Former Agile Team Lead,