User stories: 3 examples to drive user value

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Summary

A user story is an informal explanation of a software feature written from the perspective of the end user. A typical user story will follow the format “As a [persona], I want to [software goal], so that [result].” Find out how to write effective user stories to accurately represent how a software feature will drive user value.

When it comes to expanding your product capabilities, software updates are the key to increasing user value. 

User stories are an explanation of a software feature written from the perspective of the end user. This helps Agile teams understand what users want so they can deliver the best features.

We’ve put together important details around how to write effective user stories. Learn how focusing on the end user’s experience can drive the most value. 

What is a user story?

A user story is an informal explanation of a software feature written from the perspective of the end user. These stories should be written using non-technical language to provide context to the development team.

A user story is typically told in one sentence, following the format: “As a [persona], I want to [software goal], so that [result].”

[Inline illustration] What is a user story? (Infographic)

The purpose of writing user stories is to accurately represent how a software feature translates to user value. In other words, how does this software feature impact the end user? 

An end user, also referred to as a customer, doesn’t necessarily describe an external consumer. An end user can also be an internal customer or team member who will benefit from this work. Defining your end user will ultimately depend on the purpose of the software feature you’re building. 

User stories are a core component of an Agile approach. You can write them in a lot of ways, including using Post-it notes or index cards, but the most effective way to create and track user stories is with project management software. Effective project management software allows you to adjust, edit, and track user stories in real-time so your team knows exactly how they can best serve their end users. Keep in mind that Agile software development aims to put people first, and user stories help you do that by positioning your focus on the end user. 

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Who writes user stories?

Most commonly, the product owner writes user stories based on user research and organizes them into a list for the development team, also known as a product backlog. Though anyone can technically write user stories, it’s the product manager’s responsibility to ensure they have all of the information the development team needs in order to execute their initiatives.

Then, the development team will prioritize and decide which user stories to tackle during their sprint planning meeting

Who uses user stories?

User stories are used in Scrum and Kanban frameworks. 

  • In Scrum, user stories help your team gain a better understanding during sprint planning. 

  • In Kanban, teams pull stories into their backlog and work on them during their sprint. User stories give teams the context and clarification they need to manage work and meet their deadlines.

User stories are tackled by dev teams during a workflow or sprint to accomplish tasks and prevent scope creep. Break large user stories into multiple sprints or epics if needed. Epics are large stories broken down into multiple smaller stories. Multiple epics make up an initiative.

How to write a good user story

A user story is written in three steps and represents the end user’s viewpoint. 

[Inline illustration] How to write a good user story (Infographic)

The three steps of writing a user story are:

  1. Persona: The end user’s character

  2. Need: The goal the software feature has on the end user’s journey

  3. Purpose: The goal of the end user’s experience with the software feature

Your user story should contain all three of these components. Let’s dig into each of these elements to give you a better understanding of how to write an effective user story. 

Step 1. Identify the persona

Identify the end user’s persona by evaluating your target audience. Consider who will be impacted by the software feature. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself and your team when identifying the user persona:

  • Who are we building this software feature for?

  • What kind of product features does the end user want?

  • What are the demographics and psychographics of the end user?

There may be multiple personas in a given user story depending on the size of the target audience. 

Example persona: Kat, a project manager who leads 10 team members

Step 2. Describe the need

Describe how the end user will use your software feature and why. This is critical so your team understands why the target audience would use your feature in the first place. 

Consider these questions when analyzing the intent of the end user:

  • What is the end user trying to accomplish?

  • How will your software feature help the end user accomplish their goals?

Avoid focusing on the specific features—instead, consider what the end user is searching for and how your software will help them reach their goals. 

Example need: Help team members understand how individual tasks contribute to larger business goals

Step 3. Define the purpose

Define the purpose by analyzing the bigger picture of the software release. Consider how the software feature fits into your internal goals. 

Ask yourself these questions to help define the purpose:

  • What’s the benefit of the software feature?

  • What is the problem that’s being solved?

  • How does this fit into larger goals?

The purpose here is to define the value of your software feature related to big-picture goals.

Example purpose: To increase efficiency by creating a clear path

Read: Release management: 5 steps of a successful process

User story examples

To take your understanding of Agile user stories one step further, we’ve put together a few examples. The more effective your user stories are, the more value you’ll be able to drive for the end user. 

Here are three examples to represent different user story scenarios: 

User story example 1: Product development 

  • As a product manager, I want a way for team members to understand how individual tasks contribute to larger business goals to motivate efficiency.

User story example 2: Customer experience

  • As a returning customer, I expect my information to be saved in order to create a more streamlined checkout experience.

User story example 3: Mobile application

  • As a frequent app user, I want a way to digest relevant information in the quickest way possible. 

In all three examples, you can see how important it is to pose software updates from the perspective of the end user. This way, updates are made with the customer’s best interest in mind.

Tips for achieving an effective user story

In addition to the three steps outlined above, an effective user story should follow the 3 Cs and INVEST acronym. Both of these help to take your user stories to the next level, resulting in more effective software updates. 

Let’s dig into each of these to gain a better understanding of what makes up an effective user story. 

3 Cs

The 3 Cs are Card, Conversation, and Confirmation. The 3 Cs break each user story into three different benchmarks, creating a more organized process. Let’s dive into each of the 3 Cs to gain a better understanding:

  • Card: A written description of the user story used for sprint planning. To create and share story cards, try using a work management tool

  • Conversation: A discussion between customers, users, and developers around the priority and potential solutions to the user story.

  • Confirmation: An agreement between stakeholders that user story objectives and solutions have been reached.

The 3 Cs help to break down a user story into simple tasks. This gives a clear direction for involved stakeholders.

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INVEST

INVEST stands for Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, and Testable. Let’s dive into these components deeper to give you a better understanding of how the INVEST criteria can help you write stronger stories:

  • Independent: A user story should be independent, meaning it does not depend on other tasks and is self-contained. 

  • Negotiable: A user story should be negotiable. This means it leaves room for discussion. 

  • Valuable: A user story should convey value to the end user, bringing you closer to larger long-term goals

  • Estimable: A user story should be estimated to ensure it fits within a sprint and is prioritized properly. 

  • Small: A user story should be a small chunk of work that can be completed in a short amount of time. 

  • Testable: A story should go through acceptance tests and meet predetermined acceptance criteria to verify quality. 

Ensure your user stories are written in a specific and attainable way by following the INVEST acronym.

The importance of an accurate user story

Writing user stories effectively may seem like a small piece of product development, but in reality, these stories help drive creative outcomes for new product functionality. Attention to detail is incredibly important, because it helps you ensure you’re investing in user needs.

[Inline illustration] The importance of an accurate user story (Infographic)

Here are three ways writing accurate user stories can help you achieve user goals:

  1. Put customers first: User stories put end users at the center of the conversation—an important component of the Agile framework. Your team can then prioritize user needs and focus on ways to contribute to a positive user experience. 

  2. Drive innovative solutions: The deeper you dive into your end user’s persona, the more innovative your software solutions will be. This is because your focus is on the needs of your users, which you can connect to internal business goals. The more you understand the type of user you’re targeting, the more effective your results will be.

  3. Promote team collaboration: With multiple team members talking through and prioritizing user stories, collaboration in the workplace thrives. This brings multiple viewpoints to the table, offering new solutions to existing roadblocks. From testable outcomes to understanding product requirements, the more your team communicates the easier it will be to reach your desired results.

Positioning updates from the user’s perspective helps create a robust user experience, which improves business value and the overall requirements gathering process.

Drive value through user experience

Putting customers first is an effective way to center the conversation around end users and ultimately drive more value. By holding conversations around the end user’s experience, you can create more innovative software solutions that better the product development process. 

Enable your Agile team to achieve results with the help of Agile management software. From collaborating as a team to organizing sprints, Asana can help. 

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