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Agile practices may seem easier for small, isolated teams but what happens in the real world when applications go across teams and dependencies rear their ugly head?  The answer I hear too often is 'adjust in your planning sessions so that the dependencies go away.'  That's not a real, complete solution to me.  Here is why - that answer makes sense if we are creating an application and we have two stories - Add item to shopping cart and Remove item from shopping cart for example.  In this case its logical to plan accordingly.  We wouldn't want to release the product without being able to add items and additionally this functionality seems in control by the team.

What about this more common example though - a front end team develops an application that depends on data from a data team.  On top of that, not only does the front end team depend on the data team, but so do 3 other teams, all with different priorities and needs.  And since it is the real world, we have a deadline to hit - the application needs to launch in 6 weeks and the data team won't be able to finalize the data for the front end team for 4 weeks.  It doesn't make sense for the front end team to not work, especially if the amount of time they need is greater than the remaining two weeks.  What do you do?

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Finding the right amount of detail and decomposition with stories takes agile teams a few iterations, possibly releases, to get comfortable with.  It is a tough balance - we want the stories to be large enoughBut is it Jeff Patton? that our product owner(s) understands what the story is for and the team understands the story contextually, yet we need the work small enough so that we can have confidence in estimating and so that we can get the story flowing through our feedback loop soon.  I want to outline briefly how I like to approach this in the hope that it may help some others.

Jeff Patton is one of my favorite people, an overall awesome dude, and his storymapping is such a beautiful tool that I wish more tools would naturally support it.  When I am working with companies, I use storymapping as means of helping people not only visualize their product but also as means of helping groups understand where and when to break down work.  If you haven't heard or used storymapping before, please do check out Jeff's blog posting on it.  Its ok, I will wait.

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