How to Develop User Stories

This post is a part of a series: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About User Stories But Were Afraid To Askshutterstock_189996932

I sat in Doug’s office.  He was panting.  He was sweating.  As the Director of Product Management, part of his job was to ensure his product managers knew what they were doing.  The transition to Agile was giving him a headache, because now all his product managers had to learn to become product owners.  This meant learning how to write stories, but this was not the only problem.

The much bigger problem was that there was a major initiative put forth to turn the company around, and everybody, including the CEO, was dependent on this initiative to be a success.  The project had already started, and the product owners were scrambling to figure out how to develop user stories.  They tried sitting in a room with the business analysts creating requirements, but they weren’t very good nor very actionable.

In this article, I will lay out 4 techniques on how to develop user stories.


Technique 1:  User Interviews

Most users have no idea what they need.  If you press users, you will get answers, but most likely they will give only a superficial insight into what’s needed.  Users are very good at identifying their problem, but not very good at identifying a solution.

Conduct 1 on 1 and small group interviews to talk about users’ pains.  Pay close attention to the problems, but take proposed solutions with a grain of salt.  Use judgement and understanding to take those problems and turn them into user stories.


Technique 2:  Questionnaires

Questionnaires are good if you have a sizable user population.  I have had great success in using questionnaires to gather information for large ERP and PLM implementations.  However, be careful in using questionnaires as the primary means of communicating with users to gather their problems.  Compared to a 1 on 1 interview, there is little opportunity to follow clues and context.  Your only tool is the response in the questionnaire.

Make sure your questionnaires are well written, with specific questions that can help you further identify trends among your user base.


Technique 3:  Observation

Direct observation is great, and when paired with user interviews, create a 1-2 punch that helps you develop your user stories in a more direct manner.  This is easiest when you are developing in-house solutions, as on site observation for far flung customers could be cost prohibitive.

Go to where the user typically works, and observe their habits.  Pay attention to the steps they take in the system, and compare that to what they are actually looking to accomplish on a day to day basis.  Observe how comfortable they are with technology in general, and look for ways you can make them more successful in their day to day work.


Technique 4:  Workshops

A workshop to develop user stories is a meeting that has the complete team plus end-user stakeholders.  During this meeting, users write down as many stories as they can think up.  Conducting workshops is a very effective way to gather a large number of stories quickly.

After there is a large number of stories, you will want to map them out into user flows.  As you walk through the user flows, ask questions like:

  • What will the user want to do next?
  • What mistakes could the user make here?
  • What could confuse the user at this point?
  • What additional information could the user need?


Agile processes help you integrate new and emerging requirements throughout the process

At the beginning of your release, you should still take some time to conduct some sort of exercise to develop your initial set of stories.  Rather than relying on one way to develop your user stories, you should use a combination of all the ones listed here, plus any others you may come up with.

What are some other way to develop user stories?

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