The best user stories are a single sentence that helps prevent misunderstanding. Uncategorized

What is a user story, and who are these so-called users? Ryn Melberg describes in detail the role of the ‘user story’ in Agile on her weekly podcast, entitled “The Guardian.” The Guardian Podcast can be heard on iTunes, Sound cloud, or her web site at The user story is critical to the Agile team for communicating with each other and fully understanding what the customer wants and why. Or as the Internet describes it: A user story is a tool used in Agile software development to capture a description of a software feature from an end-user perspective.

The best user stories are a single sentence that helps prevent misunderstanding.

The best user stories are a single sentence that helps prevent misunderstanding.

Origin Of The User Story

User stories originated with ‘extreme programming’ or ‘xp’ as it is known. As such, the ‘user story’ is not universally accepted as part of al Agile practices. But each system in Agile does have a product owner. “It is the product owner who is really responsible for the user story and to represent the voice of the customer,” Ryn stated. “The ultimate aim of any user story is to get to test driven development, or ‘t-d-d.”

Formula For Writing

Melberg presents a very concise formula for writing a user story. “As a user I want to ____ so that I can _____.” By keeping the user story short, it is possible to remain concise. “The longer the user story is, the more possibilities there are for a misunderstanding,” Ryn said. “Longer user stories will lead to added variables and more complex testing criteria.”

Involve The Whole Team

User stories are best written by or with the whole team. The product owner can draft a few ideas and present them to the team and have team members review, wordsmith and contribute to the user story and acceptance criteria. “Misunderstandings are avoided when the whole team helps write them and when the product and team leader are involved, listening and understanding,” Ryn advised. “Group involvement helps reduce the opportunities for a misunderstanding and help drive focus through consensus.”

Doing It Wrong

For people transitioning from traditional waterfall project management to Agile, it is hard to get the language in a user story short and precise enough for a user story. “It’s a lot like the first time anyone tried to write a tweet,” Ryn said. “It was the first time for a lot of people they were forced to write 120 characters to communicate a complex thought or emotion. Easier said than done on Twitter and the same is true for rookie user story writers.”

Changing The User Story

Technical limitations or a need to adjust or add to the acceptance criteria are the most common reasons that the user story changes. The user story intent should not change and if it does it’s a problem. If the ‘user’ in the user story changes, that is a real bad problem. “When the user changes and changes a lot, that is a bad sign,” she said. It is Instances like these where a formal coach needs to come in and intervene on behalf of the entire team.”

Ryn Melberg is an Agile and Governance expert – time-to-market, risk, predictability, and customer engagement leader at Apex Business Consulting, LLC. To contact her directly go to her web site at


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