If you are working in an Agile environment you have a high chance to use User Stories.
They can be written on index cards, on project management tools, or on Post-it notes.
No matter how good your interpersonal skills in project management are, for dealing with user stories, one is better to become a good “storyteller” as well.
In other words, how to manage your user stories better?
What are user stories?
Let’s start with defining them. User stories are descriptions of how features should work from the end-users perspectives. It is an informal, simple definition in Agile software development of software usage. They are created after the project is decomposed into smaller chunks of work. Decomposition in project management enables working on the project step by step.
Some people call them scenarios because they describe one specific need a customer has.
Scenarios should provide information on the type of the user, what they want and why. Since the Agile development process starts with a user story, it is crucial to convey an understanding of requirements.
To keep understanding of the process, the user story includes three things. These are the role, function, and value of the function. In other words, a person who requires, requirement and a goal of requirement. Writing these 3 parts will make developers understand the product better from the end-user perspective.
The user story format is:
1. As a < role>
2. I want need < function >
3. So that < value of function >
As a Sales Director,
I need to improve online transaction appearance
So that we increase our sales.
Except for the body of the story, you should write the acceptance criteria as well.
Acceptance criteria example is:
Given < how things begin >
When < action taken >
Then < outcome of taking action >
The Difference of Requirement
Even though there are a lot of terminologies that distinguish them, is there really a difference between user stories and requirements?
The requirement is a written feature or function that the end-user needs. They can be elements, functions, technical solutions, specifications, business rules, and constraints. Generally, we divide them into functional and non-functional.
Functional Requirements are the basic functions that the user demands and the software should give. A non-functional requirement defines the quality attribute of a software system. Both functional and non-functional written requirements are important to have in all project phases.
And what are user stories then? The base for the difference with user stories lies in perspective. The first one focuses on the customer experience; what the end-user wants to be able to do.
The second one focuses on functionality. The user story is about the experience and traditional requirements are about the function.
Another point of diversity is the way we write them. User Stories are supposed to be short, easy to understand, simple with 3 parts: role, function, the value of the function. On the other hand, traditional requirements look more detailed and take longer to write. They often include technical details that help developers to build the function.
User Story Example: As a user, I need to be able to log in with multiple accounts so I can use more social media accounts on the software.
User Requirement Example: The user is allowed to log in with more than one account once they have login with the first account. The user interface should contain a space for entering more accounts.
Upside down, we could also say that a user story is just a well-articulated requirement. Their format became the most popular way of writing requirements in Agile.
The Difference of Use Case
Terminology often mentions Use cases as well. The Use case is a description of how the end-user can use the software. It describes the gradual process of using the system and all possible ways of the outcome. Cases also capture all the scenarios that can go wrong while interacting with software and stop users from reaching the goal.
Like User Stories, Use cases also consist of three elements:
- Actor, the user, a person or group of people who will use the product
- System, a process that leads to the outcome, the relationship between actor and the goal
- Goal, reaching customers need
Now you could wonder again – what is the difference between use case and user story? The differences are:
– documents more details to the same extreme
– the goal is to have more details documented
– has the bigger up-front specification
– describes what software should do to meet user needs
– full interaction between software and user
– in order to be simple leaves out many details
– the goal is to encourage discussion of the details on scrum meetings
– has feedbacks of small increments
– describes users’ needs, in user language
– can be divided into more use cases
Well Structured User Stories
User stories mean working on a project step-by-step, focusing on customers, and quick feedback. That is the reason why they have a great part in agile. In fact, they make the core of the on-track development of the project.
Even though everyone who understands the requirements can write user stories in agile development, there are some models to follow:
INVEST model in Agile
The INVEST criteria in agile is a model that suggests writing effective stories by following 6 characteristics. We call this formula “Invest”. INVEST formula should help you to create your stories well and save your team from delays. It is also easy to remember and makes a simple checklist for user stories:
INDEPENDENT – self-contained, possible to release by itself, not depending on other stories, separated from other stories, having self-value that can increase the total value of the project
NEGOTIABLE – open to discuss and clarify during development, specify only the essence of the user’s needs. Negotiation should have the Product Owner on the one side, and the Customer or the Development Team, or any other involved stakeholders on the other. It is important to remember that the story is not a contract. That helps to block unrealistic expectations of features.
VALUABLE – describes features that give value instead of tasks, easy to understand the value
ESTIMABLE – clear and simple, with enough information, so it can be estimated, ranked, and divided in sprints
SMALL – small enough to finish in 3 to 4 days of work, bigger “Epic” stories split into smaller ones and follow INVEST agile approach
TESTABLE – specific enough to know what and how to test
SMART Approach in AGILE
SPECIFIC- Enough specific and clear so that all team members can understand it. Specific stories prevent overlapping.
MEASURABLE- Be able to define when the task is complete and with what metrics we are going to measure its success. The project team should define what goes for “It is intended to”
“Tests included,” and “the code has been refactored.”
ACHIEVABLE – The team should be able to achieve a written task or story. In the agile method, everyone is open to help other team members if they meet a struggle; that ensures the project owner is up to the job.
RELEVANT – Every story and task should be in the same context of the project. Even though every story is split into detailed tasks, customers should be able to understand what each task is about.
TIME-BOXED – There should be an expected date for a task to be completed. This characteristic helps the team to know when to seek help and when to change the plan.
Now when you know all agile principles to write a story, dive into writing your own!
Detailing User Stories with 3Cs
We talked about what agile criteria to use for writing tasks. What we don’t know yet is how to organize our stories in the timeline. For that, we are going to check a 3Cs model. It includes Card, Conversation, and Confirmation.
The card is a description of the story that we will estimate. It usually represents 2-3 sentences about the intent of the story.
The conversation is a space left for discussing the story with the team. All team members should understand the purpose of the project and each task. Open conversation should find better solutions.
Confirmation is the final part of the conversation. The team agrees on how to do the tasks and the Product Owner must confirm that the story is done.
Challenges with using User Stories
In theory, it all sounds intuitive and logical. INVEST agile model and SMART agile approach make writing tasks easier. But let’s see what happens when we have a lot of stories and tasks.
The first thing we will ask when it comes to more stories is – Which framework to use that helps with backlog items?
Some would say SCRUM is the ideal framework. It is simple and ensures effective use of time. It adopts feedback and fast-moving development. But, what scrum doesn’t help you with is story tracking.
Losing the big picture
One of the biggest advantages of User Stories, them being very specific, small, and isolated is also one of the biggest challenges when it comes to understanding your project’s big picture.
All software projects are constantly changing, and so are the User Stories that define the functionality of the product. Keeping track of changes in individual User Stories (Acceptance criteria, priority, progress, etc) and how User Stories fit together to form the final solution becomes imperative to make sure your project is on the right track. Alongside, losing the big picture of user stories progress is one of the reasons why Agile isn’t sufficient sometimes.
To track stories, there are some techniques like Story Mapping and Requirement Traceability Matrix. User-story mapping is a process of visualizing tasks that the customer takes while using the product, from the beginning to the end. User-story maps, story maps, or story mapping often use stickers and sketches to outline users’ steps.
The problem with Story Mapping is that it’s separate from your Roadmapping and Work tracking tools. While it gives you a new perspective on the priorities and the progress it involves a lot of manual work especially when priorities or User Acceptance Criteria inevitably change and need to be updated in multiple places, so it adds a new layer of complexity to your project.
Another method for tracking stories is the Requirements Traceability Matrix. RTM is a document that gives linked requirements in every part of the developing process. It takes care that every task follows test parameters and protocols. RTM helps with organizing the mess of keeping track of all features through User Stories but it quickly becomes hard to maintain and visualize.
In other words, if you use User Stories, for long-lasting projects you will have to use more tools to track story changes.
Effortlessly maintain and visualize your User Stories through JadeALM
Among other things, JadeALM can be used to effortlessly write, maintain and organize User Stories for the complete project lifetime.
JadeALM’s unique Requirement and Issue tracking sync helps you maintain and hand over any changes in User Stories. That way all team members can track the evolution of all acceptance criteria that the Story has gone through.
Automatically generated Work Breakdown Structure gives you a high-level overview of your project. On the contrary, a simple Story Map board can’t provide it completion tracking and hierarchy in a sufficient way.
Further, his unique aspect of JadeALM will help you collaborate, organize and maintain User Stories effortlessly. It will make sure you can focus on what really matters, and that is creating amazing software solutions.
To Sum Up the Story About the Story
All things considered, you can manage stories successfully if you write them correctly and if you don’t lose track of what is going on with tasks. The right handling of stories and the right information will determine the success of your project. Further, it will improve your sprint velocity.
Whatever way you choose to convey your user story, the most important thing to bear in mind is the big picture. Once you divide the project into stories and stories into tasks, don’t forget the purpose of the whole.
By following the guides listed in this post and using tools that give a better overview, you should be well on your way to managing very successful projects.
If you have more questions or you’re interested in how JadeALM can help you manage user stories (and many more), please don’t hesitate to get in touch.