How to create clear user stories for your software idea.

Apr 27, 2023 |
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We have been in the custom software development industry long enough to see many clients who have wonderful ideas, but lack effective communication. Businesses come to us with vague descriptions of what they want in their software project and expect our developers to figure it all out. These situations are certainly not the clients’ fault. It can be difficult to accurately describe an idea when it only resides in your mind. However, to build a successful software project, the more data developers get, the better it is.

The question is how do you know which data is practical and useful for the development team? You do not want your highly skilled developers to deliver a sub-par project (or waste their time trying to do so) because of not having a clear understanding of the project at hand. This is where user stories come handy.

A well-built user story helps the development team understand their project, goals and tasks needed to move towards those goals. A user story can better communicate product owner’s expectations and help the team essentially build a user-focused product which is not doable only based on bench marks and competitive research.

However, in order to leverage the power of user stories, we first need to learn what user stories are and how they can help with product development. And that is exactly what we are exploring in this article. So if you want to learn the perfect recipe for a great user story, stick around!

Understanding user stories

The concept of user stories is closely related to the agile development process. In fact, user stories are often referred to as agile user stories or even agile stories.

Building user stories involve outlining the functions and features of a software from an end-user’s perspective. The goal of each story is to effectively communicate what a feature is supposed to accomplish in a completed product with other members of the development team. The end users can include different user types ranging from a customer who will externally interact with your product to an admin who will manage the product from your internal team.

Importance of effective user stories

Stories are powerful. Hearing a story can be as effective as experiencing the same situation ourselves. They can put us into the scene. Stories are much more likely to engage the listener than just stating facts.

“Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are, too.” – Leo Widrich, “The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains”

The purpose of user story creation is to take advantage of storytelling. User stories can perfectly communicate your goals and expectations to the development team. They can keep the whole team focused on the end users and their needs while developing the software.

The biggest benefit

When creating user stories for a software, you get to define each feature – as elaborately as you want. This results in your developers knowing exactly what you want and what to do. It saves you from going back-and-forth as you are thinking through the features beforehand and you are doing so while focusing on your users’ needs.

A well-built user story can make managing your project easier resulting in less work, less expense and more focus on making the product perfectly balanced. However, while writing user stories, do keep in mind that the primary purpose of them is to improve communication among developers, business owners and end users. Try to be as precise with the story as possible to ensure shared understanding.

Epic vs. user story

People often get confused between an epic and a user story. They are similar, yet different concepts of agile development. Epics consist of multiple user stories. User stories are written in a simple and concise manner and then combined together to build an epic.

If we think of the project as a complete story, then epics are its different chapters and user stories are the scenes organized among those chapters. A project holds multiple epics, an epic holds multiple user stories.

The INVEST approach

INVEST approach is a framework for communication used in writing user stories. It is used to create a clear backlog in agile projects. The acronym INVEST stands for –

 → Independent
Each user story should be independent of other ones which means that you can change or edit each story without affecting anything else. Keeping your user stories independent ensures your project is organized at its core.

 → Negotiable
Being flexible with the services is an important quality for any service-based business. The same goes for custom software development. Some user stories might not be exactly as they appeared in the beginning. In this case, there should be room for negotiation over those user stories.

 → Valuable
It needs to be more than a good idea to go on a project’s user stories. Instead of putting vaguely creative ideas, try to add value to the stakeholders of the project with each user story.

 → Estimable
User stories are used to create time estimations and resource requirements for a project. Therefore, every item on your user story should be estimable in terms of time and effort.

 → Small
One user story should not take longer than a sprint session. User stories should plan out smaller manageable steps that would take the project to completion. Keeping your stories small will ensure the project does not turn into chaos.

 → Testable
Each functionality that a user wants from the software should be able to be tested and proved to work during development. In order to ensure your product works as expected without understanding all technical details, make each user story testable from the beginning.

User story templates

Although user stories are flexible and diverse, there are some templates that can help you depending on the project. Here are a couple of examples.

Template 1: As a [type of user/role], I can [perform a task] in order to [goal].

For example, As a customer, I can add products to my wishlist in order to save them for later purchase.

Template 2: As [role/type of user] I need [functionality/feature] because [reason].

For example, As a customer, I need a search functionality because I don’t want to manually look for the product I want.

Going beyond templates

Relying solely on a template does not create a complete user story. It often requires further discussion and explanation. Please keep in mind that it is a story. And like any other good stories, yours should be self-explanatory and clear. If it has any obscurity, refine and clarify.

This explanation can be done through conversations among the team. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts, ideas and questions to clarify any possible confusions. Meetings where the next iteration is planned or your backlog is reviewed are perfect opportunities to open this type of conversation.

Getting confirmations

The best way to make sure your user stories are representative of the user’s needs is to confirm them from end users. This data collection process can be tedious, time consuming and biased. However, developing an ideal client persona and comparing your ideas with their perspective can result in a market-ready product. So in case you have an opportunity to get feedback from your end users, you definitely should take it.

Examples of great user stories

Two things are essential to write a good user story – (1) a set of solid rules to maintain consistency and (2) a basic understanding of your goals.

Here are a few examples of well-written user stories to inspire you.

  • As a Premium User, I want to block the songs I don’t like so that they can not appear on my playlist anymore.
  • As a Free User, I want to create my own playlists so that I can listen to my favorite songs.
  • As a Product Manager, I want to have access to user analytics so that I can improve my tools.

However well-written and straightforward these user stories are, not every project is built to suit them. Discuss with your team and decide what format and approach works best for your project and remember to write stories that are consistently accurate and communicative.

User story testing

You should always check if a functionality in your project is invulnerable. And the only way to do it is testing features against your user stories.

For example, your user story may state that as a customer, I want to see the number of products in my cart while browsing elsewhere so that I can be reminded of the products I added.

This user story can be tested by creating a scenario where your team adds products to the cart and then goes on to browse the website without entering the cart page. If the tester can see the number of products on the cart icon while browsing other screens, the functionality works as stated in the user story.

User story acceptance criteria

A story can only be considered as complete when it meets a set of criteria. These acceptance criteria are set in place to sync the inputs from stakeholders, management and the development team into a completed user story. Think of these as requirements that must be addressed before a user story is complete.

Let’s look at an example.

User Story: As a Premium User, I want to block the songs I don’t like so that they can not appear on my playlist anymore.

Acceptance Criteria:

  • Users can block any song by clicking the block icon.
  • Users can unblock any blocked song by clicking the block icon.
  • Users can view the list of blocked songs.

These criteria should be written and communicated through a clear template that is consistently followed.

Wrapping up

From our experience, agile user stories are an absolutely important part of development. Failing to write effective user stories can often lead to waste of resources or even failure. User stories can help you achieve your project goals faster in a sustainable way.

Are you planning to start a software project of your own? Check out our A to Z software development services designed to take on projects from start to finish!

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