Predict your “usable release” date by integrating user research

Question that stakeholders, project managers, and product owners have in common:

  • When will the product be finished?
  • When will a usable product be released?

Both questions could be answered by using the same method: a burn-down chart. But the second question requires adding certain user research findings to the chart.

Agile teams often use burn-down chart to answer the question. The story points remaining after each sprint, or work period. Story points are a way to measure what’s left for the development team to do.

The chart shows the story points (blue bars) remaining in each of the first 5 sprints, or work periods. The dotted line predicts that the story points will reach zero at sprint 8.

Since these story points decrease over time, a dotted line on the burn-down chart lets the team predict when the remaining story points (blue) will reach zero. The example burn-down chart, above, shows this will occur after sprint 8. At that time, the development team will have completed the original story points.

But is the work usable…?

No development work is perfect. Some defects can be ignored, others must be fixed. No defect can be fixed until it’s identified. Many defects can be identified through a standard quality assurance process. Other defects can only be found with the help of users.

There’s no need to wait until the product is released. After every sprint, a user researcher can usability-test the previous sprint’s completed work. By giving users sample data and plausible scenarios to try, a user researcher can find usability issues. The user researcher may refer some issues for later re-testing. Since early testing means the product is still incomplete, some issues will reflect missing functions. But the user researcher may also find some minor and major usability defects.

If major usability defects are not fixed, the product will in effect be broken on its release date. Fixing the major usability issues before the release date is high priority. Even though defects are unexpected, they can be anticipated.

By using the previous sprint’s usability test results, at the start of each sprint the team can estimate the usability story points. These points can then be added to the burn-down chart, but separately, since total usability story points increase over time.

The chart now has more detail. It includes story points (yellow bars) for high-priority usability defects resulting from previous sprints. A second dotted line predicts how many of these points will be added.

A second dotted line on the burn-down chart lets the team predict how many high-priority usability story points are coming. The example burn-down chart now has two dotted lines. Where they cross identifies the sprint in which a usable product is ready to release.

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