Sunday, December 14, 2014

Agile Retrospective – the Gift that keeps on Giving

As we approach the holiday season and the new year, it may be a good time to celebrate our past success, understand where we may need to improve, and commit to where we want to go in the future.  Applying a “Year-in-Review Retrospective” can be a good way to do this.  This type of Retrospective asks you to reflect on the year (e.g., 2014), embrace what you are thankful for, and help you build meaningful and realistic resolutions for the new year. 

Borrowing a page from an Agile retrospective, here is a personal way to conduct a "Year-in-Review Retrospective".  It can be done individually, with your family, or any size cohort of people.   The 12th Agile Principle asks us “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”  This can be adapted to read “At regular intervals, we celebrate our successes, reflect on areas for improvement, and commit to resolutions to improve. “

Let’s begin by establishing a framework for applying the retrospective.  Let’s call this the Retrospective Starter Kit.   We start with creating a reflection (or retrospective) board.  This board should have a place to indicate “What I am Thankful for” (or “What we are Thankful for”), “What can be Improved”, and “Actions for Improvement”. 
Start with reflecting on what went well over the past year.  Document the successes and events and then put them in an order of significances or importance.  Then take a moment and celebrate what went well (maybe over a drink and with some music in the background).

Next, reflect on what was problematic over the past year.  Write each statement as a problem.  Avoid jumping to solutions (that will come next).  Once all problems are listed, prioritize which problems may be the most significant or challenging. 

Lastly, take the top 2 or 3 problems and consider actions for improvement.  You want to identify the root cause for each problem so that you establish a solution that addresses the cause behind the problem.  For example, if the problem is that “I am out of shape”, suggesting a solution of “I need to work out” may not be the only action.  Instead, applying root case techniques may uncover that you need to create time in your schedule first.  Otherwise simply saying that you should “work out” will be unrealistic.  Once you have identified actions, then you must commit to your resolutions (or actions that you identified).   

Over time, if you find the retrospective valuable, you may want to conduct this practice in an increasingly timely manner, possibly every month.  Within an Agile context, this occurs at the end of each iterative of work which could be weekly, bi-weekly, every three weeks, or four weeks.

Finally, in the spirit of giving, may I gift you with the following items:
  • Agile Adoption Roadmap – this blog offers many helpful ways to implement and practice Agile to achieve an Agile mindset and receive the business benefits of being Agile. 
  • Being Agile: Your Roadmap to a Successful Adoption of Agile – in 24 concise chapters, this book focuses on the business benefits of Agile and then introduces you to the Ready, Implement, Coach, and Hone (RICH) deployment model as a pathway to help you in your Agile transformation.     
Happy Holiday and Celebrate, Reflect, and Improve!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Agile Education Engine - Bringing Power to your Agile Transformation

When I look across the numerous Agile deployment efforts, I see a lower rate of success in achieving the business benefits than I would expect.  May I suggest that in order to improve the odds of achieving Agile success and gaining the business results it can bring, there are three success factors. The first is that the Agile change must be thought of an organizational level change.  The second is that the Agile change must focus on getting the mind Agile-ready.  This is emphasized in the article Are you Ready for you Agile Journey.  And the third is that in order to bridge the gap between the Agile values and principles to Agile methods and practices, people need to be well educated in ways to build more customer value, optimize the flow of work, and increase quality with feedback loops.    

The current level of Agile education tends to be limited to 2-days of training and a variety of books.  I think most people will acknowledge that 2 days of Agile training does not provide enough learning.  On the other hand, reading lots of books takes a lot of time and are often not aligned with each other.  The other challenge with some of the Agile education is that it is often focused only on implementing the mechanics.

What is missing from many Agile transformations is an Agile Education Engine that helps you truly understand and embrace Agile and helps bridge the gap between Agile Values and Principles and the Agile methods and practices.  This will help folks better understand how to understand, embrace, and implement Agile and move beyond simply following the Agile mechanics of the methods and practices.  The Agile Education Engine can help ready the mind for an effective transformation.  

One of the best Agile education engines that I have seen is the material found in the Value Flow Quality (VFQ) work-based education system.  VFQ provides a set of well-researched topics that are easily digested in the form of readings, case studies, activities, and experiments.  It provides students with the ability to study a little, then experiment a little within their own context (aka, project or team).  The benefit of the VFQ work-based learning system is that it helps people apply their newly learned skills on the job when they need them.  This bodes very well for the learners because, they can learn at their own pace and as they are trying to implement the Agile values, principles, and practices. 

Some topics that VFQ offers are: Why Change, Optimizing Flow, Feedback, Requirements, Prioritization, Trade-offs, Understanding your Customer, Delivering Early and Often, Teams, Motivation, Attacking your Queues, Work in Progress, Trade-offs, and more.  Each topic includes a number of techniques that will help you achieve the business outcomes you are looking for.  The VFQ materials will provide you with knowledge on Value Stream Mapping, Story Mapping, Cost of Delay, 6 Prisms and much more.   

In addition, VFQ really helps you get to the state of “being Agile”.  It moves you away from thinking about the mechanics.  Instead, it provides you a layer of knowledge in a critical thinking manner to ensure you apply the principles and behaviors to the practices to gain the outcomes that you want.  Finally, applying the VFQ education is also an excellent way to kick-start an Agile transformation.  This way, the Agile champions for the transformation and teams are armed with a variety of different ways to bring Agile to the organization. 

If you find yourself struggling with getting a good baseline of Agile education, then consider the Value Flow Quality (VFQ) work-based learning system.  It will help you bridge the gap between the Agile values and principles and Agile methods so that you bring the Agile mindset to bear as you start or continue your Agile journey. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Agile Adoption Roadmap blog - over 500,000 views!

The “Agile Adoption Roadmap” Blog has just topped 500,000 visits on December 31, 2020*.  This is a great milestone and it makes me happy that there are so many professionals curious about Agile including many Agile enthusiasts, advocates, champions, coaches who are visiting and even commenting on my articles.  It highlights that the many articles have value.  If you want to receive its value, consider following this blog at: 

To add to the statistics, I have folks from 55 different countries that have visited my site.  The top 10 countries include: United States, United Kingdom, India, Russia, Germany, Canada, France, Australia, Ukraine, and Sweden. Other countries that have significantly visited my site are: China, Poland, Spain, Finland, South Africa, Iran, Norway, Iraq, Romania, Brazil, Argentina, Belarus, Israel, Malaysia, Portugal, Netherlands, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Taiwan, Algeria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Italy.
The Agile Adoption Roadmap blog provides the reader with a range of topics related to adopting Agile within their teams and organizations.  The content has a special emphasis on “being Agile” and bringing the Agile mindset to your work.   I have written and posted 100 articles to date.   What are some of the top articles that Agile, IT, and Business Professionals have found of value?  The top articles include:
Next time you are looking for Agile material to support you Agile Journey or you are looking to learn what it means to “be Agile”, look no further.  Consider reading the articles and following the blog.   Thank you!

I reached 200,000 hits on June 23, 2016 and I reached 100,000 on October 26, 2014 so this is good progress.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Building the Agile Culture you want

When some organizations think of going Agile, they tend to gravitate toward applying a set of Agile practices.  While this provides insight into the mechanical elements of agile, these types of implementations tend to overlook the cultural elements.  A move to Agile implies that you make the cultural transformation to embrace the Agile values and principles and put them into action. 

Adapting an organization's culture is effectively an effort in change management.  And changing a culture is hard. People underestimate the difficulties of a culture change within their organization because it involves the cooperation of everyone. This is why some organizations avoid this.  But the business benefits can be tremendous. 
I have seen Agile efforts get started with poorly stated objectives and motivations, a lack of employee ownership or engagement, and a lack of thinking through the effort. Also, Agile journeys significantly benefit from education in both change management and agile techniques to achieve a meaningful cultural change. I have seen companies assign a member of senior management as the change agent, yet they have neither education nor experience in change management. A better approach may be to hire an Agile Coach with change management and Agile experience.

Creating or adapting a culture is not done by accident. It must be considered a change initiative and thought through. As part of readiness of deploying Agile, start the process of adapting to an Agile mindset and the culture you are looking for. What are some activities that will help you move to an agile culture?  Some include:
  • Recognizing that moving to Agile is a cultural change (it’s a journey)
  • Sharing and embracing the Agile values and principles (seriously folks!)
  • Moving to an end-to-end view of delivering value (don’t stop at just the build portion)
  • Adapting your governance to focus on value (enough with the cost, schedule, and scope!)
  • Evaluating employee willingness (employees are your brainpower!)
  • Gaining continuous feedback from customers (adapt toward customer value)
  • Adapting the reward system to align with the new culture (toward team and value)
  • Assessing executive support (build engagement along the way)

What other activities would benefit you in getting to an Agile culture?  Ultimately you want to start living the values and principles that help you develop the culture you are looking for.  As you have approached Agile in the past, how much of it was focused on the mechanics and how much was focused on adapting to an Agile culture? 

PS - to read more about really making the shift toward an Agile culture, consider reading the Agile book entitled Being Agile.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Are you Ready for your Agile Journey?

The common pattern in approaching an Agile implementation is to begin by conducting Agile practices training typically on Scrum or another Agile method.  While this will allow the team to begin mechanically applying Agile practices, it doesn’t address the culture shift that must occur, a culture shift that helps to inform the mind and shape behaviors, a shift toward "being Agile".  I term this approach of focusing on the cultural aspects of Agile as “readiness”. 

Readiness is the beginning of the process of acclimatizing the mind toward Agile values and principles and what they really mean.  It includes making decisions on the elements for your implementation. It emphasizes collaboration, customer centricity, adapting to the market, and more. Although it is important to lead with readiness, this framework may be used iteratively depending on whether you plan for a more holistic implementation or iterative deployment of certain elements.

This first starts with the premise that Agile is a culture change.  The implication is that Agile is more than a change in mechanics or learning a new skill.  A culture change is a transformation in belief and behavior that we learn our way toward value.  It requires a change by more than one person, and instead by a number of people within your organization.  As you can guess, this takes time.
Over the years, I’ve established what I term the Ready, Implement, Coach, and Hone (RICH) deployment framework specifically focusing on readiness activities that help you prepare not only to adopt the mechanical aspects of agile practices but more importantly, begin a meaningful transformation of behavior toward an Agile mindset. 

Readiness starts the moment someone asks the question, "Is Agile right for me?” The goal is to work through this question, understand the context, and figure out how Agile might be deployed. Essentially you are being asked if you are ready to be an adaptive organization who recognizes that customer needs and market conditions change regularly. Readiness can start weeks and even months before you really get serious about moving down the agile path. However, it can also begin when you are ready to commit.

What are some of the “readiness” activities?  These activities can help you shape the implementation according to the context and need of an organization. Readiness provides us with an opportunity to:
  • Assess the current environment and current state of agility
  • Lay the educational groundwork of agile values and principles
  • Understand and adapt to self-organizing teams and away from command and control
  • Shift the focus to delivering customer value and away from an iron triangle mentality
  • Discuss the business benefits that agile brings
  • Gauge the team and management willingness

Readying the mind should not be taken lightly. It is important to understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ prior to discussing the how and when.  It is important that teams understand and really embrace the Agile values and principles.  Does senior management believe in the principles?  Do the teams feel they can operate in an Agile manner that aligns with the values and principles?  In fact, I dare say that if the team acts in the manner that expresses the Agile values and principles and forgoes the mechanical application of agile practices, then there is a greater chance that Agile will survive and thrive within a company and your company will more easily derive the business benefits that agile can bring.  

Since there is already an overwhelming amount of material that focuses on “how to implement Agile” from a "doing" perspective, may I suggest that a different approach.  Provide the time to prepare the mind toward the Agile mindset and then incorporate this mindset into the culture, education, and decision-making process for your proposed implementation. With that goal in mind, let the readiness games begin!  How ready are you?

To read more about the importance of readiness and additional readiness activities in detail, consider reading the book Being Agile

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Agile Executive Playbook

Imagine that you are an executive of a company (and quite possibly some of you reading this are or have a direct line to an executive).  You’ve heard about this thing called Agile and some of you have experienced it.  However, Agile is still a bit confusing because in many cases, it appears to be occurring only at the development team level and can occur in many different ways.  Some of you believe that Agile is a set of practices and tools and may be surprised to know that it is nothing-more-and-nothing-less than a set of values and principles.   Maybe some of you haven’t seen the connection between applying Agile and gaining the business benefits.  What exactly is your role and responsibilities in moving your company toward Agile?  Here is guidance on what you may do to support Agile and more importantly increase your chances of deriving the business benefits of Agile. 

Strategic Shifts           
The key responsibility for the executive within the organizational scope is to become the sponsor of the Agile initiative.  This highlights to the employees that Agile is important and increases the chances of buy-in.  But simply proclaiming “make it so” isn’t sufficient.  The executive must continue to be a key player in this on-going sponsor role.  Here are strategic shifts that are beneficial:
  • Study the Agile values and principles.  Knowing this language helps you become more conversant in Agile and to the teams and organizational players that are involved.  Studying the values and principles will also help you ascertain if you really believe in them (or not). 
  • Move away from the iron triangle of schedule, cost or scope and move to a framework focused on value.  Prioritizing ideas via cost of delay will provide a much better value-driven pipeline of ideas.  These ideas can be decomposed into increments that can then be validated with fast feedback loops. 
  • Measure and adapt the flow of your end-to-end concept to cash pipeline.  There is a tendency to focus on just development, but it is often other parts of the pipeline where ideas wait much too long.  Consider value stream mapping to better understand waiting states and no or low value steps. 
  • Adapt the organization from a hierarchical organization to more of a self-organizing organization.  When employees feel that they have more ownership and decision-making of their work, they will apply much more brainpower and bring passion to their work.
Key Sponsor Activities
Now let’s take a look at the more in-depth activities that you as an executive should consider playing and why.  These are more tactical, but since becoming Agile doesn’t happen overnight, they help keep the engagement and interest along the way. 
  • Treat your Agile initiative as a journey.  Because this does take time, it would benefit you to build an adaptable roadmap.  This may be best handled with a small local team of Agile champions who are committed to adopting Agile and an Agile consultant who has experience in this area.  To get a good understanding of what an Agile roadmap may look like, consider reading the book Being Agile: Your Roadmap to Successful Adoption of Agile.
  • Build a learning culture.  Consider establishing an education vision on how to best educate your organization. Infuse the education with experiments and experience. I suggest starting with the Value, Flow, and Quality materials that provide the reader with great insight into many of these new concepts and ideas, along with case studies and activities.
  • Build the foundation for a Customer Value-Driven Enterprise.  This is a company that is explicitly looking for the highest value ideas, applying an incremental mindset, and applying feedback loops to validate value along the way.  Learn more by reading The Agile Enterprise.
  • As an executive, examine your own behavior and align it with the Agile mindset of Agile values and principles with a focus of delivering customer value.  Are you speaking the language of Agile and the strategic shift that you are looking to achieve? 
  • Provide funding for the Agile initiative.  Funding should include meeting education needs, bringing in talent (coaches) as needed, and providing tool support. This may occur incrementally or per the budget cycle.  
  • Periodically provide public support for Agile. Establish an Agile communication plan, of which portions can be executed over time to keep employees aware of the progress and accomplishments of the deployment.  This may also include providing 'air cover' to the Agile deployment team and the coaches and champions and mitigating the risks that could prevent a move to Agile.  
  • Consider your staff.  Ask yourself, “are they Agile minded and aligned with the cultural shift that is needed?”  You may need to be involved with making adjustments to staff members who cannot make the switch away from command-and-control. This can be hard to do, but if they don't, then those around them will not take the change seriously.
  • Learn how to read agile metrics and measures of success. Gaining an understanding of the lagging to leading metric path, sprint burn-downs, release burn-ups, value capture, release frequency, Agile Mindset, Values, and Principles (MVP) Advisor, and other Agile-related metrics can help ensure the organization is moving in the right direction.
  • Adapt the employee compensation model toward agile behaviors being sought and away from rewarding command-and-control attributes. To change behavior, recognize the behavior you want to change, evaluate the reward system, and adapt it to the behavior that is needed for Agile. Without aligning the reward system to Agile, you will not get to behavior you want.
  • Attend the Sprint Reviews of your top products within your organizational scope. This will give you a genuine sense of progress and see actual working functionality of your products.
The intent of this article is to provide highlights of what an executive can do to get the most business benefits from their Agile initiative.  There can be other perspectives and further details.  As an executive (or those who have supported executives), what have you found helpful in your Agile journey?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Role of Middle Management in an Agile World

When discussing Agile roles, there is much written about the ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Development Team, and Customer.  But there is less written about what the Middle Manager should do in an Agile World.   Note, when I talk about Middle Manager, I am talking about the Line Manager, Functional Manager, Manager, and Director level manager. 

I recently discussed the middle management roles within an Agile context to several different middle managers.  They each had an interesting perspective on what it was like when their teams became Agile. Here are two excepts:  
  • The Functional Manager who was also the team's Line Manager noted that they spent much less time on directing the team on what to work on since the work was now coming out of the Product Backlog.  I told him that yes this is big adjustment.  He needed to focus on ensuring that his team members had the right skills, team impediments were removed, the Agile principles were understood, and the team were given the education they needed to become a fully cross-functional team.
  • In talking to a Director who now has 3 self-organizing teams, she was telling me that she was having a hard time knowing what to do since she felt she had to get more hands-on.  She needed to help educate the team members around their new roles, and then allowing the teams to self-organize around the work was the right thing to do.  I told her by backing off, she could better provide more strategy level guidance to connect the organization’s strategies to the team or product visions.  She commented that this was very different from the more traditional management role she had been used too.  
Ultimately, it is important to understand that middle management are critical to the success of an effective Agile deployment.  They are the lynchpin between the executive’s vision for Agile and the team's ability to apply Agile as Middle management's willingness to allow Agile can help make it flourish or fail on a team. If they are engaged and buy into Agile, then the change may succeed. Even when executives buy in, if middle management does not do likewise, they can block a team's ability to succeed with Agile.    

If middle management don’t understand their role in the new order or feel threatened by the change, they may become Deceivers or Deniers and block the success toward Agile. Because of this, it is critical that middle managers are educated on Agile at the same time their teams are.

Middle management must adapt their role and learn to gently back away from their functional leadership, act more as a servant leader who trusts their teams, helps them remove roadblocks, and supports the agile principles and practices. They may attend the Sprint Review to see progress of the working functionality and the Daily Stand-up to gain a sense of team progress.   Middle management must also learn how to establish the concept of bounded authority where teams can make their own decisions and commit to their own work. The balance is that managers keep limited responsibilities to provide a vision and support their staff, while allowing teams ownership of their work.  Finally, middle management must be willing to be transparent about what is going on in the organization and be willing to communicate this information to the team. 

Other Roles that may suit Middle Management

Often middle management have less to do in an Agile world. The good news is that they may consider options such as changing their role to Resource Manager, where they manage more people but do not own an organizational functional area. They may consider a Product Owner role if they have been engaged in collecting requirements and interacting with customers. Although this role should no longer be managerial (i.e., not direct reports), a PO helps shape the product by collecting and grooming the requirements and collaborating with the team.   They may also move to another Functional Manager role where there is still a need for this role.  And some will remain their current middle management leadership roles.  If they continue to want to do the more traditional middle management roles, they may consider looking for companies that continue to look for the more traditional roles.  

How Middle Management can evaluate themselves in an Agile World

Here are a few questions  middle managers can ask themselves to see how aligned they are in managing teams in an Agile World.  These questions are based on material from "The Manager's Role in Agile" by Michael Spayd and Lyssa Adkins.  
  • Are you allowing for self-organizing teams while still providing servant leadership? 
  • Are you removing command and control elements while providing bounded authority?
  • Are you supporting the Agile values and principles starting with marshaling a culture toward delivering value?
  • Do you remove the language of false certainty, big-up-front planning and requirements, and big batches?
  • Do you remove the significant roadblocks that hinder an agile team’s progress?
  • Do your teams perceive you as a coach and leader more than as a manager?
  • Are you helping the team with supporting their people and equipment needs?
  • Are you adapting the performance objectives to support team accomplishments to ensure they are delivering the highest value?
  • Do you help the teams when they have external team dependencies in order to get their work done?
  • Are you fostering a learning organization?  Do you provide teams the time to get educated (training, coaching, etc.)? 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Agile Requirements - A Promise for a Collaborative Conversation

Most topics surrounding the establishment of requirements revolve around how to write them (including my recent article entitled User Story Writing Starter Kit).  However, not enough is written about the key ingredient of a robust requirements process.  Some will say that when you document the requirement, you are done with the requirements process.  I content, that this is just the beginning.  The real value of a requirements process is not just writing it down, it is to begin the collaborative discussion. 

In an Agile world writing down a requirement begins the discussion between the business and engineering side.  Whether this is between the Product Owner and Development team or the Customer and Programmer/Tester, the importance is that a shared understanding begins.  This discussion initiates the learning amongst the business and engineering side where the engineering side more thoroughly understands the business value of the requirement and the business side better understands the technical options of the requirement.

It goes much deeper than this.  In the old world, there is a typically only a one or few folks who attempt to capture the whole requirement in a documented form.  This forms the basis for a requirement specification that may get ‘thrown over the wall’ to development.

I would suggest a much more robust approach starts with writing down the requirement and then continues with the fleshing-out of the requirement in a collaborative manner with the whole team.  This utilizes the brainpower of the whole team whereby each member may contribute to the understanding of the requirement and how to best provide a working solution for that requirement. 

From a process perspective, the discussion first begins when the requirement gets introduced by the Product Owner to the Development team.  As an example, this could be in a grooming, refinement, agile release planning, or sprint planning (depending on your approach) where the highest priority requirements are discussed and fleshed-out with the team’s input.  During this session, the collaborative discussion may focus on the following: 
  • Understanding why it is a high priority
  • Validating/updating the User Story is in Canonical Form (or defined form)
  • Understanding the business value and customer perspective
  • Describing acceptance criteria
  • Considering high-level technical details
  • Identifying unknowns and risks (each should have an action to investigate and mitigate)
  • Identifying what is out of scope
  • Identifying dependencies
  • Decomposing epic to user stories or each user story to tasks
  • Providing high-level sizing (e.g., t-shirt sizing, story points, etc.)

As the collaborative discussion ensues (usually in a time-boxed manner), the requirement gains more clarity and robustness, where there is a team understanding of the work.  As details are discussed, the Scrum Master, Product Owner, or anyone on the team, captures the details within the requirement.  At some point, the Product Owner and team will decide that it is ready to go into the sprint or work queue.  There is no ‘throw it over the wall’ to folks who have little understanding or context of the requirements.  Instead, when it is time to build, the developer and tester are fully aware of the requirement since they have collaboratively provided input into it. 

Whether you work in a more traditional world or an Agile world, consider adapting to a more collaborative requirements discussion approach.  Gaining the brainpower of the team and moving to a pattern of learning can achieve a much better understanding of the customer need and ultimately a better solution for the customer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

User Story Writing Starter Kit

Prior to Agile coming into existence, I was fortunate to learn how to write requirements by Elemer Magaziner (i.e., business requirements) and Alistair Cockburn (i.e., use cases).   They provided various alternatives to writing clear requirements that were irrespective of methodology.
From this I learned that there is a strong benefit to establish what I term as the “requirements language construct”.  This construct helps you consistently document your requirements focusing on key requirements elements. One common requirements language construct in the Agile world is the canonical form. It is important to realize that elements of the canonical form have been around for years.   With that being said, the three basic elements of the canonical form provide a good framework for establishing requirements. 

First I will discuss the user story that is typically expressed within the three-part canonical form.   Then I will introduce the enhancement of a requirements language construct that can adapt the canonical form.  The language construct for a user story in canonical form looks like this:
The persona is the user type who will receive the value.  The action is what the user type desires.  The business value is the benefit to that user type.  Note: you can learn more about personas in the article Personas – Do you really know your Users?   The following are examples of user stories in canonical form:
  • As a learner (persona), I want to set up my profile to include my photo (action), so that my distributed team members know what I look like (business value).
  • As a prospective buyer (persona), I want to search on homes (action) so that I know what properties are available in my price range (business value).

As enhancements to this construct, you may consider adding the system that will be used or interacted with and the receiving entity which identified the expected output from the requirements.  If applying these, the requirements language construct would look something like this:

As a (persona)
I want (action) from (system) to the (receiving entity) 
so that (business value)

The following are examples of user stories with these enhancements.  The first example below takes the second example from above and enhances it with the system and receiving entity.
  • As a prospective buyer (persona), I want to search on homes (action) from MLS (system) to a separate window (receiving entity) so that I know what properties are available in my price range (business value).
  • As a quant analyst (persona), I want a derivatives report (action) from the asset management application (system) in the form of a pdf (receiving entity), so that I can distribute it to my fund managers (business value).

There is no “right” requirements language construct.  It is important to craft one and then experiment with it.  I would suggest starting with the canonical form and work from there. 

Finally, the Product Owner, Business Analyst, Product Manager, and anyone who writes requirements should be trained in writing user stories in whatever form is used to articulate requirements. The Agile Team should be educated in understanding what to look for in a user story and asking questions regarding the elements of the canonical form. You may also want to train stakeholders and customers on how to provide their needs in your requirements language construct for consistency and clarity. 

To read more about establishing an Agile Lagging to Leading Metric Path and Agile Measures of Success, consider reading Chapter 18 of Being Agile