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8 Essential Tips for Working with User Stories

The Scrum product owner and user stories

25 August 2017

Bhasker Thapan
Web Express Computer Technologies

User stories are one of the best Agile techniques used to capture a customer’s need and the product functionality. User stories typically follow a simple template:

As a [type of user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason].

The above template answers three main questions that drive the work for the Agile team:
  • Who will use this functionality?
  • What should a user be able to do or accomplish?
  • Why should the person do this?
User stories are often written on sticky notes or index cards, then stored in a shoe box and arranged on a table or wall to facilitate planning and discussion. User stories help shift the focus from writing about requirements to holding a series of conversations about the desired functionality in the software or application.

Tips for working with user stories

The following tips will help you work better with user stories:
  1. Write user stories from the user’s perspective. They are particularly helpful with capturing a specific need the user or customer seeks in the product.
  2. If you don’t know who the stakeholders or users are and why they would want to use the product, then do not write user stories.
  3. Start with epics and keep breaking your epics into smaller, detailed stories until they are ready, clear, feasible, and testable while keeping track of the big picture.
  4. Discuss and formulate user stories together with the team. Make user stories visible and accessible to all team members by putting them up on the wall. This helps with continuous grooming of user stories and the product backlog.
  5. Write user stories for one to two sprints ahead. Use story mapping, personas, and impact mapping to discover the right stories.
  6. Ensure the quality of user stories by applying the INVEST acronym:
    • Independent: Do not create interdependent user stories — you want to be able to develop them in any order.
    • Negotiable: Avoid too much detail; keep the story flexible so that the team can adjust how much of the story to implement.
    • Valuable: The story must provide some value to its users.
    • Estimable: The team must be able to estimate the story.
    • Small: Create user stories that are small enough to fit in a sprint; large stories are hard to estimate and plan.
    • Testable: Ensure that what is being developed can be verified and tested adequately.
  7. To focus on the most critical 20% of the user stories that can lead to 80% customer satisfaction, apply the Pareto principle to your product backlog. Identifying your top 20% features or functionality generates tremendous value for your efforts at optimizing and shortlisting your minimum viable product.
  8. Establish clear acceptance criteria; work out the requirements incrementally and always determine whether the requirement is aligned with the product vision.
Following these basic but essential tips can help you unlock the secret to improved project success.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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