Whether stories should be broken down into sub-tasks is a topic that arises from time to time.
However, as so much depends on the individual situation and circumstances, there is typically no set yes or no answer to this. Therefore, I wanted to draw upon a recent scenario where the following question was posed to me.
“Do you think it’s good practise to break stories into sub-tasks, and put time estimates against the sub-tasks? I have worked that way in my last four roles, and it has worked well for me. However, I am currently working with a team where I’m meeting some resistance to working that way. They prefer to just have a story and to have no time-tracking at all. What’s your ideal way of working and why?”.
In this particular situation, I’d say it really depends on the team. If a team can be successful with less estimating and planning rather than more, then that has to be a good thing.
Less time spent planning means more time spent getting things done. I have worked with some teams who are successful in meeting their Sprint Goals without doing any estimating or planning of tasks at all, they just work at the Story level. However, in my experience these tend to be small, experienced teams with very small Stories.
I have found that most teams benefit from breaking Stories down into tasks – firstly because it helps them understand the work better when doing Sprint Planning, and secondly because it helps them manage their work more effectively during the Sprint.
I would start by getting the team to assess their own effectiveness using some empirical data, and identify some opportunities and actions for potential improvement. More detailed planning might be part of that, but the team really need to work that out for themselves if they are going to adopt it as a practice.
User stories are essential components of an Agile approach. They should encourage Agile Teams and team members to talk about requirements, rather than just writing about them.
If you’d like to explore User Stories further, including the application of advanced User Story techniques for Product Backlog Refinement, decomposition and splitting, then take a look at our 2-day Agile Analysis & User Story Workshop.