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Origin of story card is a promise for a conversation

In 1998, I visited the Chrysler C3 project in Detroit and coined the phrase “A story card is a promise for a conversation.”
Why would I do that?

At that time, the word “requirements” was still very active. Requirements were of course written down.

A user story on the C3 project was just a few words written on a card: “story cards”. In fact, until about 2003 or so, the words “story card” and “user story” were pretty much synonymous. I visited a project where they showed me their “story cards” and each one consisted of 2 tightly written sheets of paper outlining the design, the UI, the data, everything. So there was no “card” at all. They were attempting to write down the user stories as fully fleshed out requirements. Some time after that, the phrase “story card” fell out of use, and now people say “user story”. Some are still written on cards or sticky notes.

When Kent Beck and the C3 team tried in 1998 to explain what they were doing, they were constantly taken to task for the fact that the story card had no detail on it. It didn’t make any difference that Kent kept talking about the fact than a programmer would pick up the card, walk over the Customer, and say, “Tell me about this”, then go over and program it up, and come back again and ask, “Like this?”, and back and forth until it was done. The “requirements” (which weren’t) were never written down, they were communicated in discussion and feedback.

This was too difficult for most people to latch onto, and the complaints about the scarcity of text on a story card kept coming.

Now, one of the things that truly annoys me to the point of action is when I see people doing good work and getting criticized for not working according to someone else’s book. When I see that, I get pretty riled up inside, and I try to find a way to explain why this seemingly strange thing they’re doing is actually good. (This is the origin of me saying, “Hard WIP limits are for kindergartners; adults can use soft WIP limits.”; but that’s another story.)

So to help get everyone off their back, I said, “A story card is a promise for a conversation.”

Like, let them talk to each other, huh?

It worked pretty well. The phrase became a meme, made it into Ron Jeffries’ and Chet Hendrickson’s 2001 book on XP ( Extreme Programming Installed ), and is now generally understood for user stories.

Ron and Chet noted that the “conversation” was only one part of the total user story sequence, and coined the trio Card, Conversation, Confirmation. With this trio, they capture the round trip I mentioned:

  • the writing of the card, the promise for the conversation(s).
  • the conversation to understand the thoughts around the writing.
  • the program/show loop whereby the details are fleshed out and corrected.

Every few years, I see people asking where does this phrase, “a story card is a promise for a conversation”, come from. Hence this little note. Now you can reference post the next time someone asks on Twitter or wherever about the origin of the phrase.

2017-08-16T00:00:00+00:00 August 16th, 2017|Tags: |1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Ram Srinivasan August 29, 2017 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    I was teaching a CSM with Chet Hendrickson’s recently. Chet has re-ordered to 3-Cs to


    to emphasize the importance of conversation.

    -by Ram Srinivasan on 8/29/2017 at 4:16 PM

    Thanks, Ram.

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