Adjusting big Features to Sprints

Many times when picking Features as execution unit, it’s hard to fit a big Feature into Sprint. This always cause the feeling of Features is too big as an execution units, leading some organization to prefer User Stories over Features, wrongfully neglecting Features over time. User Stories as execution unit are not the optimal way to go as they don’t provide enough value by themselves – you need to have “enough” Story Points to release a valuable version to your customers. They are also too abstract to understand the big picture, missing the overall why behind them. I believe that Feature broken into Tasks is a better approach and better execution unit. Obviously, there are multiple approaches to deal with big Features. You should pick the right tool according to requirements and people involved.

Breaking Big Feature, some options:

1. Extract design from execution: You can complete the design of a big Feature in Sprint 1 and implement it on Sprint 2. This way, instead of having a very big design effort and implementation effort on the same Sprint, you can use the first Sprint to understand effort and risks and use the second sprint to implement and deliver the goods, after understanding ROI better.

2. Extract framework from client: User Stories, just like Scrum in a way, introduce too many “Do’s and Don’ts”. For example, it’s considered a “bad practice” to have Technical User Stories. I believe that if the framework has specific needs (raised by the Feature) and it’s easy to break it out from the Feature itself (user behavior), it’s perfectly okay. It’s actually another step in the right way to build confidence as part of your Sprint!

3. Break big value to multiple smaller values (*caution*): Features, by nature, bring a value to your customers. It is possible though, to break the value into multiple Features, each carries only part of the value, without damaging the overall behavior. Instead of creating a “Search Engine” feature, it’s perfectly fine to define “People Search” and “Articles Search” as different features, each bringing different value. It’s even better to define sub Features inside “People Search” to enrich user experience over time, according to feedback by your customers. Caution: you need to do it carefully, sometimes breaking a Feature into multiple Features is silly as each doesn’t bring enough value by itself, until all of the pieces come together. Still, this is a powerful question to use: “Can we deliver real value to our customers by breaking this into multiple parts?”.

Most of the time, your Features should be small enough to fit a Sprint. It’s that simple – if the features are usually estimated in 2 weeks, don’t have a 1 week sprint. That being said, you should have the right (or at least some) tools to handle big Features. If it wasn’t obvious so far, don’t be afraid to “twist and mix Agile”. You owe it to yourself to understand why you’re doing things and adjust it if needed, even if it’s written in some book that it’s a “bad practice”. It might be bad for them, but it might be perfectly fine for you.


Oren Ellenbogen