September 30, 2023

User story: How to Break a User Story

One of the quintessential skills a product manager must master is the art of breaking down user stories. It is like breaking down creating a device( laptop, for example) into smaller parts that should be defined before you assemble final product. In Agile and Scrum methodologies, a user story helps the team understand user needs and expectations from their perspective. But how do you make a user story manageable and actionable for your team? Let's dive in!
User story: How to Break a User Story

Breaking user stories it is like thinking about components before creating a device( laptop, for example). Before having actual product we think, what should be inside, so we can use our device as we want.

All fundamental information about how to define user stories you can find in previous blog post.

Rules of breaking:

When working with user stories, breaking them down into actionable tasks is essential for the success of a project. Here's a clear guide on how to do this effectively and they must follow several rules:

1. Task Size Matters

  • Ensure tasks are of manageable size. It is a good practice to break down stories, but be sure that they are not too small. A good benchmark is that they can be completed within a day but not just within a few minutes. Another point - user stories are far away in backlog usually are bigger in size because team efforts are focused on closer in time user stories.

2. Precision is Key

  • Avoid vague tasks such as "Coding" or "Implementation". Instead, opt for clear, descriptive tasks like "Develop the login class".

3. Leverage Acceptance Criteria & Definition of Done

  • Use the acceptance criteria of the user story to identify required features.
  • Refer to the definition of done as a checklist to ensure all tasks needed for a story to be complete are covered.

4. Maintain a Checklist

  • With tons of requirements by the users, there is always a chance of missing out on some details. Thus, always maintain a checklist and keep on modifying it as new requirements pop in at the later stages. A checklist would remove the chances of missing out on any important user requirement.


Consider this user story for a web application:

"As a registered user, I want to log in with my username and password, so the system authenticates me, ensuring trustworthiness."

Acceptance Criteria:

  1. A registered, logged-out user should access their data when they enter their correct username and password and click on "Log in".
  2. An error message should be displayed if the password is incorrect.
  3. The user login session should load in under eight seconds.

Definition of Done:

  • Code meets standards and style guidelines.
  • Code is thoroughly tested.

When brainstorming tasks, your team might suggest these tasks:

  • Creating a new UI element for Sign-up and Login.
  • Developing password encryption.
  • Creating a user information database table.

To systematically address the story:

Break Down into Executable Tasks:

  1. Design and develop CSS class for Sign-up/Login form.
  2. Create HTML and Javascript for the Sign-Up/Login interface.
  3. Implement Javascript validation for the sign-up form.

Ensure Acceptance Criteria are Met:

  • To address the error message criterion, expand the "Create HTML and Javascript for Sign-Up/Login interface" task to include error messaging.
  • To guarantee quick login sessions, introduce a task: "Run performance tests on the login function".

Ensure the Definition of Done is Achieved:

  • Include tasks for regression testing.
  • Update change logs with the new Sign-up/Login feature details.

As teams engage in such exercises repeatedly, they'll naturally anticipate these considerations and refine their processes, ensuring every vital aspect of a user story is addressed.

Sizing of user stories:

When you have more clarity on the list of tasks that go within each user story or when your user stories became less, it's time to estimate effort. Here, important things to consider are:

  1. Dependencies and Downstream Tasks: Do you require input from subject matter experts? Are there prior articles or blogs to be revised or built upon? Maybe without some functionality you can't finish this user story?
  2. Complexity and Team Skills: Does your content team possess the expertise on the topic? Or is there a learning curve that needs addressing?
  3. Past Estimates: Reflect on prior blogs or topics of similar complexity. How did the team fare with them? Any learnings to glean?

Contrary to the traditional time-bound metrics, Agile methodologies advocate the use of 'story points'. These aren't mere numerical values but embody a series of numbers inspired by the Fibonacci sequence or its variants: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100. Each point indicates a relative magnitude of effort.

For instance, distinguishing between the efforts of a 5-point task from a 6-point task might be subtle. However, the contrast becomes evident when comparing a 5-point task with an 8-point one. Such relative distinctions, especially in the lower spectrum where a 2-point task embodies double the effort of a 1-point task, enhance the efficiency of this system.

The pivotal challenge for Agile teams is to calibrate the actual effort corresponding to a single story point. Once that's established, all subsequent estimates can align with that baseline. The beauty of story points lies in their consistency, eliminating the ambiguities of time from the equation. It's understood that actual delivery timelines might be influenced by external factors like team commitments to other organizational tasks. Yet, the intrinsic effort, represented by story points, remains immutable.

Popular Techniques for Estimation:

  1. Planning Poker: A collaborative method where team members individually propose their estimates, subsequently discussing them collectively to arrive at a consensus.
  2. T-shirt Sizing: This visual technique categorizes tasks based on sizes – XS, S, M, L, XL – offering a more intuitive approach to estimation.

More about estimation techniques you can read in this post.

Tips for a User Story Breakdown:

There are multiple approaches that you can follow during breaking up user stories. Here is some of them:

  • Capability-centric Breakdown: Segmenting mammoth features into digestible, smaller entities helps in pinpointing user needs with precision.
  • Role-driven Breakdown: Different user roles might interact with your product differently. Customize your stories to cater to these diverse roles.
  • Persona-driven Breakdown: Individual behaviors and preferences vary. Creating user stories that cater to unique personas can significantly enhance user experience.
  • Device-centric Breakdown: Ensure that your user stories resonate across diverse devices, be it smartphones, tablets, or desktops.

Benefits of a Robust User Story Breakdown:

User backlog refinement and user story breakdown is important process that should be done periodically, on different stages of a project. It helps to chunk user stories to smaller pieces and focused on items that bring maximum value for a product in particular moment of time.

  1. Clear Direction: A detailed breakdown eliminates ambiguities, offering a  roadmap aligned with user needs.
  2. Collaboration at its Best: This approach fosters a synergistic environment where teams come together to resolve tasks effectively.
  3. Simplicity: Complex user stories are made accessible, fostering a better understanding.
  4. Error Minimization: A systematic breakdown reduces the chances of any user requirements being overlooked.
  5. Focus on important: By Breaking user stories you can reduce amount of work required on the current stage (MVP as example)
  6. Elevated Stakeholder Contentment: When user story objectives are realized, stakeholder satisfaction inevitably soars.


User stories are not just a mere list of requirements but they are the true essence to measure successful project planning. In any business, clients are of foremost importance, therefore it is necessary to meet their demands accurately.

Thus, the user story task breakdown example has made it evident that such a breakdown will help to understand the user needs better and ultimately help in the effective execution of the project.

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