How to take advantage of user stories in your project?


20 August 2019 • 15 min read

    In agile methodologies, user stories are much more than just short descriptions representing system requirements. If there’s anything that all agile development methodologies share is that they put the needs of users first. And user stories are there to help development teams focus on the actual end users and their requirements. 

    Most of the time, user stories use non-technical language to provide contextual information the development team needs to be aware of when developing features. After reading the user story, developers should know why they are building the feature and what value it creates to the end-users. 

    All agile development programs have user stories at their core. Moreover, user stories help to keep the team focused on users in their daily work, and develop a product that brings more value to users, positioning it for success.

    Read this article to learn what user stories are and how your team can benefit from writing them for your project.

    What are user stories, and why does your team need them?

    The term user story refers to a unit of work in the agile framework. Note that a user story is not a feature but an end goal which is expressed from the perspective of the software’s user. The main idea behind the user story is formulating how a specific piece of work will deliver a given value to the customer. 

    Don’t forget that the term “customers” doesn’t always mean external end-users. We can also talk about internal customers like colleagues at your organization who depend on your team to deliver a specific value.

    So how do user stories usually look like? They are a few sentences long and outline the outcome of the system in a single language. They never go into detail. The idea here is to focus on the user needs and the value the feature is supposed to deliver. That’s because requirements will follow later, once they the team brainstorms and agrees upon them.

    User stories form the building blocks of broader agile frameworks such as initiatives and epics. Epics, there are large work items that are broken down into a set of stories. Multiple epics come together to form an initiative. Such larger structures ensure that the work of the team contributes to the bigger-picture goals. 

    User stories are part of the agile frameworks such as Scrum or Kanban. For example, Kanban teams add user stories into the backlog and run them throughout the workflow. User stories help Scrum teams in estimating tasks and spring planning.

    Here are a few good reasons why your team needs user stories

    • They keep the focus on the user – the development team is usually concentrated on tasks that need to be checked off to ensure the project’s progress. But a collection of user stories is precious because it helps to keep your team focused on solving problems for real users.
    • Stories drive collaboration – when the end goal is defined, team members can work together and decide how to achieve that goal to serve the users.
    • They create a source of satisfaction – once the development team completes a story, it can celebrate completing a small challenge and small win, driving the momentum of the project.
    • Stories inspire creativity – because they don’t include specific requirements or details, user stories encourage the team to think creatively about how to come up with a solution for specific end goals.

    Now that you know the value of user stories for your project, let’s have a look at how you can get your team started working with them.

    How teams work with user stories

    To show you how teams work with user stories, let’s go over a simple scenario:

    Imagine that you wrote a user story. Now it’s time to integrate it into your workflow. In general, user stories are written by product owners, product managers, or program managers who submit them for review. 

    Once the stories accepted, you can add them to your sprint or iteration planning meeting. That’s when the team will decide which stories they will tackle during the following sprints. Team members will discuss the requirements of each user story and the functionality it implies. 

    This is an excellent opportunity to brainstorm the technical side of user stories because the team will be discussing how to realize the implementation of a feature that satisfies the end goal of the story. 

    Once the team agrees upon everything, the requirements will be added to the story. Next, teams will score stories based on their complexity or time to completion. There are many different methods for doing that. While some teams use T-shirt sizes, others take advantage of the Fibonacci sequence or engage in planning poker. That’s how they come up with accurate estimations. 

    A user story needs to be completed in a single sprint. If the story is too big, the team can break it up into smaller segments.

    Writing new user stories

    When writing user stories, remember the following points:

    • User stories formulate specific goals for specific end users – if you’re dealing with multiple end users, you may have to create multiple stories.
    • Develop a definition of done – when will your user story be completed? A user story is most often done when the user can complete the outlined end goal. But it’s a good idea to define and agree upon that together with the team before setting down to work.
    • Outline the tasks – write down the specific steps the user needs to complete to achieve the end goal sketched in your user story. You can even write a story for every step in a more extensive process.
    • Share your stories with the team to brainstorm and discuss.
    • Get user feedback – start talking to your users early on and learn more about their needs. You should be getting plenty of valuable insights directly from your users.

    Expert tip: when it comes to software development, time is a tricky subject. Many teams avoid discussing time and instead rely on estimation frameworks. But don’t forget that your story needs to be completed in a single sprint. Stories that take weeks or months to complete should be broken up into smaller stories.

    Use this user story template

    User stories often follow this structure:

    As a [persona], I want to do [X], so that I achieve [X[.

    Here is an example:

    As a project manager, I want to be able to understand the project’s progress, so I can better report the success of my team.

    When writing a user story, you need to have a full understanding of who your persona is. What problems do they have? What goals do they want to achieve? It’s not just about the job title, but the shared understanding of who the persona is.

    “I want to do [X]” –  this part is all about describing the intent of the user, but not the features they’re going to use. What goals are there trying to achieve? What do they want to do? Note that this statement shouldn’t include any implementations. Focus on the user here.

    “, so that I achieve [X]” –  this part shows how that end goal fits into the bigger picture. What is the overall benefit or objective they are trying to achieve? Is there a bigger problem that needs solving?

    Key takeaway

    User stories are an essential element in every development project because they describe the rationale behind the daily work of the development team. When expressed in clear sentences that sketches the persona, their needs, and their purposes, they are the best tool to describe the why and what of the project. 

    Your team needs to understand why they’re building the features they’re building. I hope this article helps you make the most of user stories for your project. 

    Do you have any questions about crafting user stories for agile software development projects? Get in touch with us; we help companies refine their processes and use quality project management tools like Jira to implement agile tactics into their workflows.

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