5 Techniques for Writing Better User Stories

story writing images


As a story writer <WHO>

I can write better stories <WHAT> 

so that everyone has a better understanding of the product<WHY>


There are different approaches to writing user stories depending on the project and what best suits it. And no matter what method you choose, the above Who, What, and Why structure will undoubtedly be a part of it - and for a good reason. This hallowed method has proven to help capture the critical details about your user. And the better you can do that, the better off you’ll be. 

The benefits of writing good user stories are undeniable - better collaboration, brings the user closer to the project, shared understanding, and so much more - but how do you achieve them? Or better still, how do you write not only good stories but great ones?

You are in luck because here are 5 incredibly useful techniques and tips to consider if you want to elevate your user stories to the best they’ve ever been.


1. Stories: Independent Testable Units

user story independent

Step one of refining user stories is to make them as independent as possible, helping to minimize dependency during the development and testing phase. To achieve this, continuously break the requirements into tiny separate pieces until they become independent. But how do you know that the stories on your list are, in fact,  self-sufficient and independent? You can check by asking yourself a simple question: can we develop, test, and push it into production without relying on any other stories? If the answer is yes, you've had success. 

As a result of this approach, it's not uncommon to see improvements in your team's productivity levels. Moreover, small and independent stories are great for supporting continuous integration and continuous delivery, having deliverables at the end of the defined estimated time. Writing a story as a task or covering all use cases of an interactive web page in a single user story won't be a productive approach for Agile or Kanban Methodology but can prove somewhat useful for the Waterfall model.


2. Remember, the User comes first

user is king

While writing user stories, one should only focus on how the user will be interacting with the system. Your thoughts on the process, time, budget, feasibility, or technical limitations should be reserved for another time. Proceeding with given restrictions and conditions will be a decision taken by administrative and technical teams. By bringing a bigger picture from a user perspective to story writing, you will help all team members and stakeholders understand the requirements better and have a deeper grasp of the user flows. One way of doing this is by capturing user needs, points of view, and pain points while interacting with the application.


3. Write your stories collaboratively


Undoubtedly, one of the most productive (and most enjoyable) practices of story writing is to do so collaboratively. Converting requirements to user stories and defining every possible use case is a task that requires a plentiful amount of brainstorming. And considering all the perspectives of application usage must be an essential part of that brainstorming session. Collaborating and getting different points of view contributing to a common goal can help bring up many use cases that would have gone unexplored by just one person. Also, collaborative efforts yield positive results in the latter stages of the project when each member involved has a better understanding of the requirements and can contribute much more efficiently towards their part of the project.


4. Follow the 3 S’s – Simple, Straightforward, and Self-explanatory

write together

“If your story makes complete sense to a layman, you are on a good path of story writing.”

The simpler and easier it is to understand a user story, the more value it can bring to the person reading it.  To do this, write stories in the most straightforward way that will provide a clear user entry and exit point. Incorporating the 3 S’s rule helps you avoid tiresome back and forth requirement clarification within your team. Having your user stories more understandable and with a focus on achieving the desired function will help your teams avoid misinterpretation and degrees of reshaping.

One common approach to story writing, Behavior Driven Development, works primarily around the 3 S’s rule and a mixture of a few others. This methodology focuses on ways to minimize gaps and supports the most straightforward and simplified method for story writing.

Take the following user story as an example, which focuses on the end user's goal and has a precise entry and exit strategy.


5. Refine until nearly perfect


Refining user stories and acceptance criteria until they are nearly perfect is paramount to success. Acceptance criteria are an essential part of the story and must be reflective of the client's expectations. In addition to having all functionalities listed, an ideal case would be one with little or no ambiguity and no partial success or failure statements. It should have just one of two results - success or failure.

Another aspect of proper acceptance criteria is how quickly it can be verified. Verifying more functionality in a short duration of time will invariably help testers, developers, and clients crosscheck features more efficiently. Add in another round of quick collaboration with team members that can act as a final polish and you’ll be putting the finishing touches to your user story in no time.

And there you have it - 5 tips and techniques to help you on your way to writing your best stories yet. And once you get in the habit of writing better stories, it won't be long until that effort translates into a value that is passed on to the user - every time.

Topics: UX, Digital, Development

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