Comprehensive Guide to User Stories in Agile Project Management

User stories are commonly used in agile project management to describe a desired feature or functionality from an end user’s perspective. They are used to define the goals and benefits of a feature and serve as a basis for discussion and estimation during the development process.

User stories are an important part of the agile development process because they help to focus the team on delivering value to the user. They are used to prioritize work and guide development efforts and are typically small and independent, making them easy to fit into the agile development process.

How to Write User Stories

It’s important to remember that user stories are not just something you write on your own. They should be the result of a dialogue with the user, as they describe what the user says they want to do. This means it’s important to involve the user in writing and prioritizing user stories. By involving the user in the process, the team can ensure that they are building the right features in order and delivering the most value to the user.

User stories are typically written in a specific format, such as, “As a [user], I want to [goal] so that [benefit].” This helps to clearly articulate the user’s needs and the value that the feature will bring.

Two real-life examples of user stories. Story #1: As a frequent traveler, I want to be able to access my flight itineraries and hotel reservations on a single platform, so that I can easily manage my travel plans. Story #2: As a busy parent, I want to be able to order groceries online and schedule a pickup time, so that I can save time and avoid long lines at the store.
Real-Life Examples of User Stories

Define the Goal

Another consideration when planning and prioritizing your work as a developer is the concept of the minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP is the minimum set of features that you need to build in order to validate your product idea with the user. Identifying and focusing on the MVP can help you prioritize your work and ensure that you are delivering the most value to the user.

Story Mapping

Once you have a clear understanding of the user’s needs and goals, you can use story mapping to organize and prioritize the user stories. This involves creating a visual representation of the user’s journey and the features that will help them achieve their goals. By working through this process with the user, you can identify the most important features and prioritize your work accordingly.

Writing Acceptance Criteria

After completing the story mapping process, the next step in writing user stories is to define the acceptance criteria for each story. Acceptance criteria are specific, measurable conditions that must be met in order for a user story to be considered complete. These criteria should be clear and concise and should outline the exact behavior that the user can expect from the feature.

For example, if the user story is, “As a customer, I want to be able to purchase products online so that I can shop from home,” the acceptance criteria might include:

  • The user can add items to their shopping cart
  • The user can view their shopping cart and make changes to the items in it
  • The user can enter their payment and shipping information
  • The user receives a confirmation email after placing their order

Defining acceptance criteria helps to ensure that the development team understands the exact requirements of the user story and can build the feature to meet those requirements. It also helps to ensure that the feature is thoroughly tested and meets the needs of the user.

Incorporating user stories and acceptance criteria into the agile development process can help teams to deliver value to users more efficiently and effectively. By involving the user in the planning and development process, and focusing on delivering the most valuable features first, teams can build products that better meet the needs of their users and drive business results.

Estimating User Stories

Estimating is the process of assigning a relative value to a user story. This value can be expressed in terms of story points, which are a unit of measure used to compare the relative size and complexity of user stories. Estimating user stories helps to prioritize them in the product backlog and identify the most valuable items to work on first.

Sizing User Stories

Sizing, on the other hand, is the process of assigning a relative measure of effort to a user story. This can be expressed in terms of time, resources, or a combination of both. Sizing user stories helps the development team understand how much work is involved in completing each item and helps them plan their work accordingly.

It’s important to understand the difference between sizing and estimating because they serve different purposes. Estimating helps to prioritize user stories based on their value while sizing helps the development team understand how much work is involved in completing each story. Both are important considerations when planning and executing an agile project.

How to Write User Stories for Non-Functional Changes in Agile Development

As a business analyst and scrum master, you may have encountered the challenge of writing user stories for non-functional changes in your agile development process. While user stories are typically used to capture functional requirements, they can also be used to express non-functional requirements.

Defining Non-Functional Changes

Non-functional changes are any changes to a system that do not directly add new features or functionality. Examples of non-functional changes include:

  • Architecture updates
  • Security enhancements
  • Performance improvements
  • Tech refresh (e.g. upgrading to a new version of a software library)
  • Patching

It’s important to note that just because a change is non-functional does not necessarily mean it is not valuable to the user. Non-functional changes can bring significant benefits to the user, such as improved security, faster performance, and better reliability.

Writing User Stories for Non-Functional Changes

So, how do you write user stories for non-functional changes? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Consider the value to the user: As with any user story, it’s important to consider the value that the non-functional change brings to the user. For example, updating an SDK version may remove security vulnerabilities, improving the overall security of the system for the user. Adding indexes to a database may speed up certain endpoints, resulting in a better user experience.
  2. Focus on the “why”: When writing user stories for non-functional changes, it’s important to consider the “why” behind the change. If you can’t clearly explain the value that the change brings to the user, it may not be worth tracking as a user story.
  3. Abstract technical details: It can be helpful to frame non-functional changes in terms that business and product stakeholders can understand so that they can properly prioritize the work. This may involve abstracting the technical details of the change and focusing on the business value it brings.
  4. Use a consistent format: To ensure that your user stories are clear and easy to understand, it’s important to use a consistent format. The specific format will depend on your team’s preference, but a common format includes: “As a [user], I want to [goal] so that [benefit].” For example, “As a system administrator, I want to upgrade the SDK version to the latest release so that we can take advantage of new security features and fix any vulnerabilities.”

Prioritizing Non-Functional Changes in the Agile Development Process

Once you have written your user stories for non-functional changes, the next step is to prioritize them in the agile development process. This is where the value to the user becomes especially important. Non-functional changes that bring significant value to the user should be given higher priority, while those that bring less value may be prioritized lower or even de-scoped.

It’s also important to consider the scope and impact of the non-functional change. A small, low-impact change may be easier to fit into the development process, while a large, high-impact change may require more planning and coordination.

Additional Resources on User Stories