The Minimum Size of Value and Independence

Recently I stumbled into a conversation with a client about the virtues of smaller stories when analyzing and estimating work. One business consultant asked a the question,

Have you found that there is confusion around people thinking that because a story should have business value and be independent that this means it is essentially impossible to break things down smaller than a minimum marketable feature?

I’ve seen that confusion; but there is a real difference between business value and “worthy of its own press release.” Adding a new “does everything for you” button has business value, but so does changing the wording on an existing button. So business value, as a criteria, really should not impose a minimum size to any story.

As far as story independence goes, I’ve always found that decomposing stories affords a great opportunity to challenge our thinking about what depends on what. It’s always great to see false dependencies collapse as stakeholders and teams cover the ground between business value and technical detail. The exercise of decomposing stories reveals these false dependencies: business says, “wait, I thought that B couldn’t be deployed without A,” or developers are surprised to find that A is not necessary, but B is critical. These conversations tend not to happen until somebody asks the “ignorant” question, “What if we deliver B without or before A?”