5 Steps to Writing an Effective User Story

When you are in early stage product development, a user story is one of the most important items that you should consider. A user story is a description of a goal/scenario a (typical) user would want to achieve with the product.

User stories should be tailored for the intended user

Why is a user story so important?

  1. Whether you are building a product within an organization or you are a start-up, you have to sell your product to those who are willing to sponsor the development. If your product addresses a very clear or common problem and there is a demonstrable market out there, your job becomes easy. But still it may not be suitably clear to everyone how your product will be of help.
  2. You want to partner with someone to co-create the product or have them tweak a product of theirs to work with your product.
  3. Explain clearly to the engineering and quality teams a typical use case and the relationship between the product modules.
  4. Pitch your product to potential customers.
  5. Consistency when different members of the product team evangelize the product at separate locations at different times.

Here are some steps that you could consider when coming up with a user story. 

  1. List the product modules and their features (on a whiteboard or anyplace the team can see easily) so it is easier to visualize the relationship between them when writing the story. This is important to ensure that your story includes only what your product offers currently while leaving scope for expansion.
  2. Identify the user who is going to use the product and make the story compelling for her. It makes no sense to write a story with the CEO in mind when the CFO is the one who will be using the product.
  3. Identify one problem in an area that the user will be responsible for. Else she’ll not be interested.
  4. Then show how the product helps identify that problem and solve it. It is important here to cover as much of the product features as possible without reaching novel length. Not all features may be useful for a particular person you are pitching to, but will at least include those that matter to her.
  5. Link it back to a beneficial outcome solving the original problem to close the loop. If it doesn’t help the user, it doesn’t help you. Period. And the user must realize the benefits.

What are some other considerations for writing user stories? What are some other reasons for wiritng a user story? Do you have an example where a user story failed and what did you learn from it?

[image: Flickr/Anna Gutermuth]

4 Responses

  1. Jigesh
    Jigesh at ·

    We as a group are moving to Agile development. What I have realized is that it takes lot of effort on the part of the developers to move from the typical mind set that they are generally in and think about the user. I recollect an instance when the team struggled to find a meaningful “title” for the user story. The title sounded more like a feature title or spec, something that the product could do rather than what the user could. I believe that a crucial role can be played by marketing in this regard. The marketing should not only let the developers understand what the market expectations are but also make some effort in bringing the developers close to the market/customers be it in the form of some forums, marketing events etc.

  2. Jigesh
    Jigesh at ·

    We as a group are moving to Agile development. What I have realized is that it takes lot of effort on the part of the developers to move from the typical mind set that they are generally in and think about the user. I recollect an instance when the team struggled to find a meaningful “title” for the user story. The title sounded more like a feature title or spec, something that the product could do rather than what the user could. I believe that a crucial role can be played by marketing in this regard. The marketing should not only let the developers understand what the market expectations are but also make some effort in bringing the developers close to the market/customers be it in the form of some forums, marketing events etc.

  3. Suman
    Suman at ·

    Jigesh,
    You are absolutely right in pointing out that marketing/product management has a big role to play in this. Though I had not written this post with Agile in mind, I guess the concept of user stories applies equally to it as well.
    This disconnect between users and developers is one thing that needs to be bridged. Especially in the context of product development in India. For too long have we been, as an industry, involved in rolling out services that the concept of ‘customers’ and ‘users’ has remained blurred. One of the many reasons why the product culture is not fully developed here. But the good news is that it is changing for the better.
    Suman

  4. Suman
    Suman at ·

    Jigesh,
    You are absolutely right in pointing out that marketing/product management has a big role to play in this. Though I had not written this post with Agile in mind, I guess the concept of user stories applies equally to it as well.
    This disconnect between users and developers is one thing that needs to be bridged. Especially in the context of product development in India. For too long have we been, as an industry, involved in rolling out services that the concept of ‘customers’ and ‘users’ has remained blurred. One of the many reasons why the product culture is not fully developed here. But the good news is that it is changing for the better.
    Suman

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