Brown M&M Stories

In the early 80’s, Van Halen figured out a way to make sure everything in a long list of technical specifications was implemented correctly, or at least well understood:

So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say, (…) in the middle of nowhere: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

I’m left wondering if sometimes I encounter user stories that are just like that: “if this little thing over here doesn’t work by release X, it’s time to review the whole project.” It’s a way of failing fast, without the burden of double-checking the whole lot. The problem is, finding one of these in a project where customer collaboration comes before contract negotiation, to sound a little dogmatic here for a second, is obviously a sign that trust has been broken somewhere down the line and needs to be reestablished.

So, just as Van Halen finding brown M&Ms in the backstage area was to be considered life-threatening, finding a “no brown M&Ms” story in your backlog should be a warning that the customer isn’t involved enough, or doesn’t trust the development team. It’s probably not life-threatening, but a very high priority risk.