by Leon Rosenshein

Stories vs. Tasks

We Scrum. Or at least we Sprint. And our sprints come complete with Stories and Tasks. Just ask Jira. Stories and tasks are both important. Together, along with Epics and Initiatives, they make up our backlogs, both Sprint and Product.

Stories have phrases like "As <persona>",  "I should be able to <X>", and "so that I can <Y>". They have Acceptance Criteria that describe what done looks like. They often (almost always) require work on multiple components. And above all, when they're done the user/customer gets added value.

Tasks, on the other hand, are things that need to be done. They are defined by imperative statements. Like "Do <X>", "Automate <Y>", or "Write postmortem for <Z>". The definition of done for a task is implicit in its imperative nature. Just follow the instructions (along with all of its implied NFEs) and you're done.

What's important is not confusing the two. A Story will encompass multiple tasks, but the individual tasks are not stories. It's always a temptation, when a Story is too large, to break it down into smaller Stories. And we should. Being Agile, at its heart, is about continuously delivering value to the customer. If you can, deliver some value sooner.

What we need to avoid is breaking a Story down into tasks, and then treating the tasks like stories. Some Stories are just that big, or touch too many components, or are serialized in a way that keeps them from being done in parallel. In those cases avoid the temptation. To help planning and set expectations, create the tasks and add them to the backlog. Consider them and the time it takes to do them when doing Sprint planning. Tasks, in and of themselves, don't add customer value.

Remember. The goal is to add customer value, and to do that you need to know which things on the backlog add customer value and which things are steps. Because it's easy to maximize items closed/velocity without maximizing value add. And that leads to the dreaded feature factory, which we all want to avoid. But that's a subject for another day.