Writing good user stories is an art that comes by practice and not by simply wishing. User Stories form a vital part in developing functionality of a product.  

If you’re looking for tips to write good user stories, then this blog post is for you. Let’s take a tour of the basics of User Stories before reaching the focal point of today’s content. 

What is a User Story?

User Story is a tool used in Agile to record the description of a software product from the end-user perspective.  User stories are further divided into manageable pieces of works often called as tasks. 

Who owns the User Story?

While the Product Owner owns the user story, the entire cross-functional team works on the product backlog. The Product Owner is accountable for managing and organizing the product backlog including its contents and ordering. 

Elements of a User Story

The most common format of a user story is as follows- 

“As [a user persona], I want [to perform this action] so that [I can accomplish this goal]”

Apart the typical format, here are a few things that make a user story unique (considering different ALM tools which are in used in modern days)- 

1. A Unique ID: A Unique ID is used to identify a requirement specifically.  When an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tool is used, this is default attribute that is fixed by the team for all requirements

2. Summary: This is the short or compressed title of the requirement

3. Description: The Description is the user story described in the standard user story format i.e.

“As [a user persona], I want [to perform this action] so that [I can accomplish this goal]”

4. Acceptance Criteria: Acceptance Criteria is a set of predetermined requirements that must be fulfilled before the user story can be marked complete. If the requirement is mentioned in the acceptance criteria, it SHOULD be built.

5. Estimation: Estimation is the process of estimating the effort required to complete a user story in the product backlog. Most of the agile teams estimate The user stories using story points.

6. Status: Status refers to the progress stage of the user story. It may begin with Open, In Analysis, Ready for Dev., In Dev, Idea, Defined, Refined, Planned, In Progress, Completed, Rejected, and Accepted.

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Types of User Stories

User Stories are classified on the basis of two types-

1. Functional User Stories: Functional User Stories are written based on the functional traits of the software and concentrating on the user and value of the functionality offered to the end user.

2. Technical User Stories: Technical User Stories provide support to the functional user stories.

3. Product Infrastructure: Product Infrastructure Stories assist requested functional stories. This may be inclusive of new or revamped infrastructure.

4. Team Infrastructure: Team Infrastructure stories help the team and their capability to deliver working software. This includes tooling, testing, metrics, design, and planning.

5. Refactoring: Refactoring are technical user stories that identify codes that need refactoring. Refactoring is the process of improving the internal structure of code without altering its external behaviour.

6. Bug Fixing: Bug Fixing is a change to a product or system built to handle a programming glitch or bug.

7. Spikes: A Spike is a technical user story where the estimation for the efforts required cannot be determined by the team. These are user stories requiring research on design and architecture helpful in fulfilling the functional needs of the end-user.

Spikes should be timeboxed, in story points, and that timebox should contribute to the team’s velocity for that sprint. 

Spikes are estimated and demonstrated towards the end of the iteration, as like other stories. 

Teams can use Spikes in a numerous situations such as- 

  1. Estimating latest features and capabilities to analyze the implied behavior offering insights to split them into minor measurable pieces 
  2. Find our the viability of epics by carrying out feasibility analysis and other activities
  3. Perform fundamental research to make them aware of a new technology or domain 
  4. Develop experience in technical and functional approach thereby minimizing risk and uncertainty 

Benefits of Good User Stories

Writing good user stories has its benefits. Here are the 6 benefits of writing good user stories- 

1. Delivers the maximum value: Good user stories help in delivering the maximum value by concentrating on the immediate and smallest consumer requirements. 

Agile teams divide the user stories into tasks and features that can be developed within days or hours. The Product Owner closely works on prioritizing the user stories based on parameters such as user value, risk, and business value to exponentially increase the value delivery in the initial sprints. 

Delivering maximum value increases the ROI, minimizes the investment since the product returns start to pay for the new functionality development. 

2. Encourages Collaboration: Good User stories enable unimpeded collaboration between the development team, product owner, and the client. Agile Teams directly talk to the customers to deliver optimum value to the customers. 

Good user stories require minimal writing which allows the development team to talk to the end users or the product owner while working on a user story. This helps in unearthing business and technical insights that help address the customers pain points. 

3. Keeps the end users in loop: Since good user stories involve minimal writing which helps in frequent interaction with the end users. This helps the development team understand the POV of the customer, pain points, and challenges that need to be resolved. 

As the users are in loop, feedback is available regularly for the user stories that are DONE.  

4. Building products in increments: Since user stories are split into small tasks, the product is built in increments delivering the highest value possible. Product Increments allow for quick implementation and faster customer feedback.

User stories can help in addition and removal of new features. 

5. Increase Transparency: User Stories written on Index Cards increase transparency among the Product Owner, Team Members, and stakeholders. These index cards are accessible to everyone which ensures quick decision making and better collaboration. 

Index Cards are not helpful in writing exhaustive documents.  

6. Creates Shared Understanding: In conventional methodologies, the user stories are written and passed on to the development team to implement resulting in substandard work. 

Things happen differently in Agile, where the Product Owner and Development team work together to distill, build, and divide the user stories. 

This collaboration helps in shared understanding two things- 

  • The user need and what is practically possible from a technology and business standpoint  
  • Intent of the Product Owner and the understanding of the development team

Characteristics of Good user stories

User Stories can be called “Good”, if they contain the following attributes- 

  • Should portray maximum user value 
  • Must be user centric 
  • Begin with an epic 
  • Be concise, simple, and precise 
  • Must contain supplementary documentation and information if required 
  • Should be detailed enough to showcase value and  basic enough to build in a single iteration 
  • Should be created by including inputs from all the stakeholders 
  • Flexible and modifiable without  affecting other user stories negatively 
  • Easy to test 
  • Contains the acceptance criteria for the testing team 
  • Mention INVEST criteria of writing good user story

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10 Tips for Writing Good User Stories

With all the comprehensive information about writing User Stories, this guide will be incomplete without the 10 Tips to writing good user stories. 

Bookmark this blog post if you must! 

1. Prioritize your Users: User stories should always be written with a ‘User-first’ approach. It should describe how the end user is going to use the product. User stories are helpful in understanding the accurate functionality needed by the user. 

The Product Owner and Development team should interview/talk to users and then write user stories which are customer centric. 

2. Create Personas to write user stories: Creating agile personas is one of the most widely used methods when it comes to writing user stories.  

Personas are fictionalized representations of typical users of your goods, services, website, and so on. They are used to develop a picture of your consumers, including their preferences, traits, decision-making processes, and so on, by creating profiles of typical users. This will be helpful in determining the actual problems you users might be facing.

3. Collaborate when creating user stories: Don’t mistake a User Story to be a specification tool rather, treat it as a communication and collaboration tool. If user stories are written and handed over to the development team, then it defeats the sole purpose of user stories.

The Product Owner and the development team should interact with the users and collectively create user stories. Collaboration between the Product Owner and the development team creates shared understanding.

4. Keep your user stories short and simple: User Stories should be written in simple and lucid language. Leave out the jargons and ambiguous terms. Include only the important information and omit the rest.

5. Begin with Epics: An Epic is a large user story that is broken down into user stories which contain a larger strategic objective. It is highly useful in receiving feedback on product increments and prototypes.

Epics help you to figure the product functionality without going into the details. This helps in articulating new products and features and helps in understanding the best ways to address the user needs. 

Epics greatly reduce the time and efforts for combining new insights.

6. Filter the stories till they are ready: The Development Team must have a shared understanding with respect to the user stories. The user stories should not be too long and must contain  acceptance criteria.

The user stories should be split until they are crystal clear, practical, and testable.

7. Define Acceptance Criteria: Acceptance Criteria is a set of predetermined requirements/conditions that must be fulfilled before the user story can be marked complete. If the requirement is mentioned in the acceptance criteria, it SHOULD be built.

It helps the team in understanding the conditions that the team has to be fulfilled to mark the story as ‘DONE’. When epics are split into smaller stories, it is mandatory to determine the acceptance criteria. This marks the product ready to be released and demonstrated to the end users. 

As a thumb of rule, keep 3 to 5 acceptance criteria.

8. Use Paper Cards: Paper Cards may sound strange but they were used in Extreme Programming(XP). Paper Cards help in better collaboration, can be easily stuck on the wall to inspect for regularity and perfection and to visualize dependencies.

And, lastly it is low cost and easily usable.

9. Make your stories accessible and viewable: Your stories are meant to communicate information. By making it private and restricting visibility, you are hindering communication and collaboration. Display your stories on the wall or use a tool for everyone to see as this will inform everyone about the changes in the product.

10. Stop overdependence on User Stories: Overdependence on User Stories sets the product for failure. A product’s success shouldn’t entirely rely on User Stories. It takes more than user stories to create a superb user experience.

User stories aren’t made for articulating user journeys and visual design. Use story maps, workflow diagrams, storyboards, sketches, and mockups. Lastly, use UML for defining technical requirements since user stories aren’t the best tool for it.

Conclusion

Writing good user stories requires a lot of practice which will come by experimentation. Since you now know the elements, types, characteristics, benefits, and more importantly the 10 tips to write good user stories, writing good user stories will not be a herculean task anymore.

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Agilemania

We are a team of Professional Scrum Trainers (PST) and Enterprise Agile coaches actively working as Scrum Trainers, Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters/Product Owners aimed at delivering quality and consistency for our students across the globe.