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How to Write an Agile User Story

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

One of the most important factors in project success is the quality of the requirements. In Agile, project requirements take the form of user stories. In this lesson you will learn what an Agile user story is and how to write one.

User Story Defined

Greg trains companies and teams to use Agile. He helps them understand the values and principles of Agile, and how they can be implemented. He helps teams approach projects from start to finish, but one area he focuses on in particular is project requirements. In Agile, project requirements take the form of user stories and are foundational to the approach. Before he helps teams write user stories, he first defines what they are, where they come from, and why they are used.

User stories are a form of project requirements that detail desired functionality for a specific user. Agile approaches projects incrementally and iteratively. User stories are an incremental approach in the sense that project requirements are broken down into aspects of functionality. It is iterative in the sense that user stories are completed with repeated cycles of development, testing, and review known as sprints.

User stories are written by the stakeholders of the project. These are the people who have requested the project and will benefit from its success or suffer from its failure. They are representative of the end users for which the functionality is desired. While all stakeholders are involved, the key stakeholder, known as the Product Owner, actually writes the user stories. The Product Owner is accountable to the other stakeholders for the user stories written and also responsible for reviewing them with the development team.

The purpose is simply to initiate conversation and collaboration. User stories contain just enough information to reach a common understanding. Once a common understanding is reached, the user stories are discussed and lower level details are added so the project can be completed. This approach is extremely valuable because it elicits input from everyone involved in the process.

Writing a User Story

Once Greg helps groups understand user stories, where they come from, and why they are used, he moves on to how to write them. While Product Owners are the ones to write user stories, it is valuable for the entire team to know how they are written so that they can evaluate their quality and whether changes need to be made. Writing user stories involves answering questions of who, what, and why.

The first step in writing a user story is to answer the question of who. This involves identifying the user or role that needs the functionality. It is important to be as specific as possible and to not use a generic user. The reason for this is because the user is foundational to the user story and influences the functionality. For example, if the team is working on a website for a company to sell clothing, functionality for customers might include security aspects to protect their private information. This part of the user story is written, 'As a who...'

The second step in writing a user story is to answer the question of what functionality is needed. It is important to define the functionality or need. This is what is developed or created. From the clothing website example, functionality for a customer could include checking out as a guest. The functionality for of the user story is written, 'I want to what...'

The final step in writing a user story is to answer the question of why the user needs the functionality, the reason or the business value. It helps the Product Owner determine if the story is needed. It gives the development team purpose and buy-in because they understand why the work they are doing is necessary. To continue the clothing website example, the reason customers need to check out as guests could be so that they do not have to save their confidential information. The reason behind a user story is written, 'so that why.'

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