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The User Story Has Not Been Accepted and I am Thinking Crazy Thoughts

I constantly ask teams why user stories were not accepted during their previous sprints.  Often, the teams are not sure, sometimes it is because the product owner was unaware that the story was available for review, and at times it is because the team just did not get around to finishing the work.

I next ask the teams if they are concerned that the stories were not accepted.  Often, the teams say “We are not concerned, because we know we will be able to work on the user story in the next sprint. We will finish our work later on”. 

I have a problem with this thinking and it drives me crazy for the following reasons:

  1. The team made a commitment to finish the user stories in the designated sprint.  I am trusting that they will honor their commitments.  If the team does not honor their commitments on prior sprints then I have a hard time believing they will honor their commitments on future sprints.  So, will I believe them when they tell me that they can hit the go-live?  Probably not.
  2. Leaving user stories open in past sprints may mean that someone has not checked the quality of the work.    There is the risk that the product created may be defective, and may require re-work which in turn could result in an estimate to complete (ETC) that is under represented and inadequate.  In other words, the costs to complete the project are probably higher than what people are thinking.
  3. There is the risk that you are not where you think you are in the project.   If the user story has not been accepted then it is difficult to understand in the big picture where you stand regarding your project.    Completed user stories are one of the key attributes that tells you the true status of a project using Earned Value calculations.  You are like a ship without a compass without accurate and timely user story completion.

When I see a closed sprint with uncompleted user stories a red flag goes up. A red flag indicates risks, and unmanaged risks leaves a wake of challenged and failed projects.

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