User stories are Agile project management tools designed to capture the software feature requirements of end users. These stories are feature requirements presented in the user’s own words, and they are intended to act as objectives for Agile development teams.

User stories convey the type of user, what they want, and why. The result is a simplified description of a software feature requirement. The stories are then extrapolated into tasks for the development team. They conform to the following user story template:

As a (role), I want (feature) so that (reason).

In practice, user stories often look like the following examples.

As a user, I want to access a team calendar so that I can invite team members to meetings.

As an administrator, I want to see all the meeting invitations so that I can make sure the team’s time is being used effectively and work is not duplicated.

Agile user stories are short and they are often recorded on sticky notes or index cards. It is important that they are recorded in the stakeholder or end user’s own words so that it is clear to both the stakeholder and the development team what the customer wants and why this is a requirement.

Agile project management best practices lay out the need for frequent and close collaboration between the Agile team and stakeholders to ensure that not only is the software code that is developed a good fit for the business needs of stakeholders, but that the team can respond to changing needs as they arise.

Related: What is technical debt?

User Stories’ Role in Sprints

Sprints are the core of the Agile software development method. They are the bursts of work that compose the iterative process that allows Agile practitioners to maintain a flexible level of responsiveness to changing customer requirements.

During the sprint planning phase, user stories are examined, deconstructed, and matched with technical specifications. For instance, our example user story of an administrator who requires visibility into the meeting invitations illustrates a concrete need on the part of the individual, but it could be a complex coding application for the development team.

The technical components of that user story need to be produced and assigned to a sprint or a series of sprints with the goal of producing a packet of working software.

Related: Let’s go back to the basics with Agile project management.

A Clear User Story Is a Useful User Story

User stories are best written in the customer’s own words, but they also have to be translatable into requirements that the development team can produce. A best practice in this area is to frame user stories using a template. A good template is our example above. It ensures that user role, feature, and benefit are all included to create a concise requirement that the development team can act on.

While the role and feature aspects are critical pieces of information to the development team, the last piece, the benefit, is also very helpful. It helps contextualize the requirement and further enhances the ways in which the development team can match the final product to the customer’s needs.

Simply producing the software that fills stakeholder needs is a must, but knowing why the customer wants those needs allows Agile development teams to deliver products that thrill customers and provide world-class service.

The Bottom Line

User stories are critical components of successful Agile development. By allowing end users to describe their requirements in their own words development teams have access to the unfiltered needs of their final users. The value of user stories are further increased when those stories are told in a way that conforms to a specific template to ensure that the details development teams need are included.


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