What are user stories?
By Chris Rickard · March 28th, 2023
User stories are a popular concept in the world of software development, as they help project teams better understand, document, and prioritize user needs in a concise, digestible format.
Who are the users?
They are the ones who interact with the project or product. They are the ones we care most about when designing and implementing software.
And at the heart of any successful software project, lies a thorough understanding of the end user's needs and objectives.
So, how do you write effective user stories? Let's dive into the basics.
What is a User Story?
In simple terms, a user story is a brief, informal description of a specific feature or piece of functionality desired by an end user. The main goal of user stories is to keep the focus on the user's perspective, their real needs, and the benefit or value they will receive from the feature.
So instead of describing a feature as "Monthly Payroll report", you would describe exactly who needs the feature, and why they need it. For example:
As a human resources manager,
I want to generate a monthly payroll report,
So I can review employee salaries, deductions, and benefits, and ensure accurate and timely payment processing.
This is a much more concise and user-focused way of describing the same requirement - and gives everyone reading it a clear understanding of who wants the feature (the human resource manager), and why they want it (to review employee salaries, deductions, and benefits, and ensure accurate and timely payment processing.)
A typical user story follows the format:
As a type of user,
I want to perform an action or interact with a feature,
So I can get some benefit or value
This standard structure makes them easy to read (when you're used to them!) and helps to ensure that all the important information is included.
Example User Stories
Let's run through some more examples,
An online shopping website might have a "Filter" feature, so the user story may be:
As an Online shopper,
I want to filter products by category and price range,
So I can easily find items that suit my preferences and budget
A project management system might have a "Reporting" feature, so the user story may be:
As a Team manager,
I want to see a visual overview of my team's progress on tasks,
So I can quickly identify bottlenecks and ensure timely project completion
A mobile fitness app may have a "Step count" feature, so the user story may be:
As a Fitness app user,
I want to track my daily steps and receive personalized exercise recommendations
So I can stay motivated and improve my overall health.
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Who Should Write User Stories?
User stories are most typically written by the product owner or business stakeholders, as they have the best understanding of the end user's needs and priorities.
But in my opinion, everyone should write user stories.
When I started freelancing, I wrote user stories. When I was a technical lead, I wrote user stories. When I started my own agency, I wrote user stories. Now I run a product business, and I still write user stories.
It's become my way of describing software requirements, whether they are going to be read by a client, a developer, or a designer - I write them in the same way.
Collaborating on user stories is a fantastic way to confirm requirements, and getting everyone involved in the process helps to ensure that everyone has a shared understanding of the user's needs and expectations. Developers, designers, clients, QA's - all roles have valid input to contribute to the user story process.
How to Write Effective User Stories
- Focus on the user's goals: When crafting user stories, it's essential to concentrate on the desired outcome for the end user. This helps keep the focus on the value provided to the user and ensures that the feature or functionality aligns with their needs.
- Keep it simple and concise: User stories should be easy to understand and focus on one specific feature or functionality. Avoid including technical jargon or unnecessary details.
- Collaborate: Encourage open discussions and brainstorming sessions with the team to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the user's needs and expectations.
- Keep them centralized: Sticky notes on whiteboards are ok to start, but to create long-term documentation store your users stories somewhere central, such as Userdoc.
- Refine and revise: User stories are not set in stone. As the project progresses and new information becomes available, it may be necessary to revise or even discard certain user stories to better align with the evolving needs of the end user.
User stories play a vital role in modern software development processes and ultimately create a more successful and user-centric product, give them a go on your next project, and let me know how you get on!