Story Cubes at #SGPRG

Friday, 20 November, 2015

“The idea of stories is to TELL them, not just WRITE them” - Carlton Nettleton, Scrum Gathering Prague 2015

I attended the Scrum Gathering in Prague this week purely as spectator rather than a speaker, which gave me a lot of time to soak up some great sessions from various speakers. I think the highlight for me was one of the first sessions on Monday, run by Carlton Nettleton, called “User Stories are Fun! Capture the Magic with Story Cubes & Innovation Games”.

I was keen to pick up some tips from Carlton on how he used “story-telling” as a coach, and his session focussed on using Story Cubes to create User Stories. If you have never used Story Cubes before, the are a set of nine dice, which include symbols or pictures on each side. There are primarily an aid for children to encourage and play with story-telling.

I’ve been a fan of Story Cubes for a long time, and use them regularly with my children to tap into their creativity when it comes to story time. Indeed, while I was writing the story-telling chapter of my book “Improv-ing Agile Teams”, I included a story that my daughter told me, as she was using Story Cubes to help her.

Carlton’s session only lasted 45 minutes, but I think he could have benefitted from more time as people were really getting into the story-telling element as his time ran out! He started off with an introduction to User Stories, and then split us into small groups (3-4 people) who would then have a go at creating some stories using the story cubes. Carlton’s advice for the next part of the session is best described as follows:

  • Roll only three cubes - I agreed with Carlton that the full set of nine is to me and can add too much complexity too soon. Using three cubes allows people to distinguish a beginning, middle and end to a story.

  • Do it in a small group - if anyone around the table could see a connection with the symbols then they could jump in and tell a story. This takes away some of the pressure off individuals. 

  • Let people warm up - Carlton let us familiarise ourselves with the cubes by practising first. The first round of story-telling involved us using the cubes to tell a story or memory we had personally, that the cubes reminded us of. After the warm-up, we focussed more on the creation of product specific user stories.

  • Mix the packs of cubes - the official story cubes now come in a multitude of themes and topics. Carlton advises to mix them up to get some different combinations.

  • Change the perspective - it’s easy to think of the hero of the story, but try thinking about the villain or a supporting character. There is a link to user personas in user story development here too.

I really enjoyed this session and I think just about everyone was convinced that Story Cubes would be a great tool to help us think more about how realistic our user stories can become. I sometimes think the story-telling nature of our work has been lost or in some cases, never even utilised. In a scrum team, the Product Owner has to be the greatest story-teller of all. Using story cubes might help you practise some of those skills. Thanks for sharing Carlton.