September 30, 2023

User Stories

User Stories serve as the backbone for requirements in the Scrum framework
User Stories

The Shift from Traditional to Agile:

In traditional methods, teams often find themselves sifting through lengthy, detailed specifications. Scrum simplifies this by focusing on concise descriptions, avoiding over-technical jargon. A User Story is, essentially, a succinct requirement expressed informally in natural language.

Moreover, it's crucial to understand that a User Story isn't a solitary, self-contained directive. It's an open invitation for dialogue between the Product Owner, Development Team, and sometimes even Stakeholders, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

What Makes a Good User Story?

A well-crafted User Story delineates what a user can accomplish once a feature is rolled out. It showcases a feature's functionality, relevant business value, and possibly the target audience, aiding in its prioritization.

Here's the litmus test: If a User Story doesn't align with these guidelines, it's likely an Epic.

A golden rule for User Stories: They should always have a clear, specific title and follow the "As a [user], I want [feature] so that [benefit]" formula. This structure ensures clarity about the user's identity, the desired functionality, and its underlying purpose.

So let's break down it:

Type of user: This defines who the user of the feature will be, e.g., new user, admin, returning customer.

Action or feature: This describes what the user wants to do or what feature they are interested in.

Benefit or value: This explains why the user wants this feature and the value it provides to them.

For instance:

As an administrator, I want to create user accounts so that new users can access the system database.

As a customer, I want to search for a book by its title so that I can quickly find what I'm looking for.

As an admin, I want to add new books to the store inventory so that customers have a wider selection.

As a returning user, I want the ability to bookmark books for later so that I can come back and purchase them when I'm ready.

Remember, User Stories aren't instruction manuals. They dictate the 'what' and 'why' without prescribing the 'how'. The expertise and autonomy of the Development Team guide the 'how'.

Acceptance Criteria: Setting the Bar

Every User Story needs Acceptance Criteria, which define the conditions a story must meet to be considered "done." These criteria are explicit, testable, and traceable. Before diving into development, ensure these criteria are set to prevent roadblocks.

For our example above, the Acceptance Criteria could be:

  1. An entry field for the user name.
  2. An entry field for the new user's email address.
  3. A feature to auto-generate and send initial passwords.

Definition of Done: Additional angle of quality

"Acceptance Criteria" and "Definition of Done" (DoD) are both terms commonly used in Agile and Scrum practices, and while they both provide a shared understanding of what is expected, they serve different purposes. Let's dive into their main difference

Purpose:

Acceptance Criteria:

  • Describes what specific requirements or conditions a particular feature or product increment must fulfill to be accepted by the product owner, stakeholders, or the business.
  • Provides clarity to developers and testers on what must be done for a feature to be deemed complete from a functional perspective.

Definition of Done:

  • Describes what specific requirements or conditions a particular feature or product increment must fulfill to be accepted by the product owner, stakeholders, or the business.
  • Provides clarity to developers and testers on what must be done for a feature to be deemed complete from a functional perspective.
Scope:

Acceptance Criteria:

  • Specific to each user story or feature.

Definition of Done:

  • Generally applies consistently across all user stories or features. A DoD is a global checklist for all tasks.
    Examples
Example:

Acceptance Criteria for a Login Feature:

  • Users can log in using an email and password.
  • Users receive an error message when entering an incorrect password.
  • After three incorrect attempts, the user is locked out for 10 minutes

Definition of Done:

  • Code is written and reviewed.
  • Unit tests are written and passing.
  • Code is merged into the main branch.
  • User documentation is updated.
Usage:

Acceptance Criteria:

  • Used by product owners to express the desired outcome of a feature.
  • Helps testers in determining how and what to test.
  • Assists developers in understanding the feature requirements.

Definition of Done:

  • Used by the development team to ensure every product increment meets a consistent quality standard.
  • Helps to foster a shared understanding of completeness among team members.

User Story Templates: Consistency is Key

While the essence of a User Story is simplicity, having a standardized template can facilitate a smoother workflow. In one of my projects, a well-defined template on fileshare servers proved invaluable. This template contained fields like title, requestor, description following the "As, I want to, So that" format, acceptance criteria, business value, potential consequences if not implemented, dependencies or risks, estimation by the Development team, and so forth.

Furthermore, stakeholders found printed versions of this template useful during Product Backlog Refinement sessions, ensuring swift and structured input.

Tips for Writing Good User Stories:

Starting with this template provides a foundation, but crafting effective user stories is a nuanced art. Agile expert Bill Wake has outlined key criteria for creating high-quality user stories, summarized with the mnemonic INVEST:

  • Independent: Each story should stand alone and not be entangled with others. They should be conceivable and achievable in any sequence
  • Negotiable: Instead of being rigid feature mandates, stories should allow room for discussion and collaboration on the finer details.
  • Valuable: Every story must deliver discernible value to the end-user or customer
  • Estimable: A well-defined story can be estimated in terms of the effort required, ensuring realistic expectations.
  • Small: It's essential to keep stories concise. If they're too expansive, it's a sign they need to be divided further to reduce ambiguity.
  • Testable: Clarity is key; each story should provide sufficient information to determine when it's successfully completed through testing, often defined by acceptance criteria.

Other artifacts: Epic, Themes.

Epic:

  • Definition: An epic is a large body of work that can be broken down into a number of smaller stories (or tasks). It often encompasses what could be considered a feature or a significant portion of a feature in software development.
  • Usage: Epics are used to group multiple user stories together that align with a larger, high-level objective or feature. This helps in organizing work, prioritizing, and planning.
  • Duration: An epic can span multiple sprints or even release cycles, depending on its size and complexity.

Example: If you are building an online bookstore, an epic might be "User Account Management." This epic would include various user stories related to account creation, profile editing, password resetting, and so forth.

Sprint:

  • Definition: A sprint is a fixed time period (usually 2-4 weeks) during which a specific set of tasks or user stories are developed and made ready for review or deployment.
  • Usage: Sprints help teams work in a consistent, iterative manner. At the beginning of each sprint, the team plans and commits to a certain number of user stories they believe they can complete. At the end, they review the work and adjust their approach for the next sprint based on learnings.
  • Duration: Typically, sprints are 2-4 weeks long, but the exact duration can be adjusted based on the team's needs.

Example: At the start of a 2-week sprint, the team might commit to completing 5 user stories related to "User Account Management." Epic.

User stories map: Epic, Story, Sprint

In essence, while working on a software project:

  • You'd start by identifying epics that define larger features or objectives.
  • Each epic is then broken down into stories that provide a more granular view of user needs.
  • The team then plans sprints where they commit to completing a certain number of stories within the fixed sprint timeframe.

Next article:

How to do sizing and breaking down of user stories.

Conclusion

User Stories are pivotal in Scrum, bridging the gap between complex requirements and actionable tasks. Embracing a structured approach to User Stories can significantly enhance team efficiency and product quality. As you progress in your Scrum journey, always remember the essence of User Stories: clarity, simplicity, and collaboration.

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