Getting Better At User Stories

I’ve been running product teams for 3 years now and been part of product teams for 7, I’ve seen the failures and successes from both perspectives and there are 2 approaches to a given project that will definitely fail.

Approach 1 is for the delivery lead to go into a room alone and flesh out the requirements and subsequent user stories alone, finally emerging and presenting their vision to the rest of the team. This approach almost always results in questions from the team members and missing requirements identified.

Approach 2 is to involve the entire team and maybe even the stakeholders in a workshop to outline the requirements and subsequent user stories. The stakeholders will invariably end up having arguments amongst themselves about what they want and what is most important. The product team will outline the requirements and user stories to capture almost everything, but there will always be something missed that comes up later.

Either approach ends up with lost time but there is a strategy that will enable teams to leverage short meetings to focus their efforts. By conducting a mini-workshop focused on a single objective or minimum marketable feature, the right participants can be identified and invited. This also breaks down the greater vision to a single objective that can allow the team to see the wood for the trees, so to speak.

Story mapping is a good visual process that allows you to identify the sequence of actions in a user journey and the alternative paths a user might take. Each action is written in such a way that the word ‘then’ can be inserted between each pair…

Sign in -> Then -> Search Products -> Then -> Add Product To Basket -> Then -> Purchase Product

Post-it notes and a wall are ideal for this approach because you can easily move actions along the sequence axis as well as up or down the alternatives axis. The alternatives axis allows the team to agree what actions are most important and which are less important.

This approach of small workshops spread across a project leads to a better delivery of the product over time, compared with outlining everything upfront and finding everyones memory fails when they try to recall something 6 weeks later. Our modern brains are not designed to hold onto information for long periods, that is why computers are for, by having computers to store information we free up brain power to be creative and in the moment.