In this episode, Candase Hokanson helps to understand how to use visual models to not only create a shared understanding, but also to identify user stories and prioritize your backlog.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • How to use models to create a shared understanding, even with teams that aren’t co-located
  • The five recommended models to use for your next project
  • How to use models to identify user stories and prioritize your backlog
  • Why models are great at identifying missing requirements

Show Notes

A visual model is a visual representation of a more complex concept.  We use models because they’re easy to change and collaborate on.  Visual models create a shared understanding and they can also help you build and prioritize your backlog.

Typically, you’ll use 3-5 models in a project to discover requirements.  You don’t need to do all of the models upfront.  You can (and should) build models iteratively and incrementally, but models aren’t just for agile projects.

The five models Candase recommends cover project objectives, project features, the systems, the people, and the data.



Business Objectives Model: This model helps us to understand why are we doing this project.  It helps us get to the root cause and address the right thing.  Additionally, the Business Objectives Model helps with backlog prioritization.

Feature Tree: This model lists the project features organized in a tree format similar to a fishbone diagram. Feature Trees help you see what’s missing and creates a clear hierarchy.  For further clarity, you can color code feature into phases or sprints.

Ecosystem Map: This model is similar to a context diagram.  It shows what systems and teams are involved and can be used to identify dependencies.

Process Flow: This model maps out the process and can be decomposed into many levels.  Level 1 shows the high level end-to-end process in 5-9 steps.  Breaking each step down from there is the Level 2 process flow where we see more of the detail.  The Level 2 process flow is the source of most of our user stories because each process flow step becomes one or more user stories.

Early on, you can develop the Level 1 process flow.  At Level 1, you may identify epics and features for the product backlog.  Over time, you can break down each step in the Level 1 flow into a Level 2 or 3 process flow just in time and identify related user stories.

Business Data Diagram: This model grounds your project from the data side.  It’s more about how the customer thinks of data and includes data elements such as customer account, addresses, orders, etc.  You can continue to add data as you find it in the system.

The Business Data Diagram can help you identify the business rules or acceptance criteria for your user stories.  It can also help you to identify missing user stories.

You can use the other models to help prioritize the epics, features, and user stories in your backlog so you can identify which you should decompose and deliver first.



Using these models creates traceability.  Your user stories tie back to steps in your process and include acceptance criteria derived from the Business Data Diagram.  Those process steps tie back to features in your feature tree, which trace to business objectives.


Listen to the full episode for more advice on what models to use and how models can help you identify missing requirements.



Your Homework

Look at your project to understand where visual models can help and figure out which one you want to use.  If it’s a customer facing process, a process flow is often an easy way to understand the steps and identfity user stories associated with those steps.  If your project doesn’t have a customer facing component, the Business Objectives model is a great way to understand the objectives and business need and can help with backlog prioritization.


Links mentioned in this episode:

Candase Hokanson

Candase Hokanson

Senior Product Manager at Seilevel

Candase is a PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner who trains and coaches Product Owners, Scrum Masters and Business Analysts on agile approaches as well as championing products in those roles for clients. She works with teams to unite every team member around the common end goal of delivered business value to save up to millions of dollars in development costs for features that won’t be used or don’t contribute to the anticipated business value.

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