Three quick tips on writing the perfect agile user story - Unlock Your Team's Genius

Three quick tips on writing the perfect agile user story

By Georg Fasching | agile practice

Sep 13

Master the art of fail-proof user stories that keep the quality of work consistently high

Tip 1: Be INVESTed

The first rule for writing great user stories is to make sure it’s always in compliance with the INVEST criteria. You may or may not have heard of it but INVEST is an acronym that stands for the following:

  • Independent: the story must be a deliverable entity on it’s own
  • Negotiable: the solution must be up for negotiation in case of e.g. an easier way to achieve the same value.
  • Valuable: it must bring clear value to the end user
  • Estimable: it has to be concrete enough for the team to assess the level of effort required
  • Small: it’s got to be sized appropriately so that it can be delivered in a fraction of a single sprint–the smaller the better
  • Testable: the product owner must be able to check it against the end result

Once the user story satisfies all of the above then it’s in alignment with the INVEST criteria.

Tip 2: Create a user scenario

The term ‘user story’ and ‘product backlog item’ are nowadays largely interchangeable. The reason the user story format is widely adopted, and considered a generally accepted practice. It is widely adopted because stories come natural for people; they are a written in a language that everyone understands. If you imagine the user as a character in a story you can write a simple sentence that goes like this:

As a [user type/persona], I want to [action] so that I can [value].

A completed example of this would be:

As a corporate partner, I want to receive updates on my referrals so that I can understand the value I’m bringing to our partnership.

Be sure to fill each of the gaps, and that the outcome has real intrinsic value that the story aims to deliver by its completion. If it helps, flip it around and start with the value:

So that I can [value] I want to [action] as a [user type/persona].

“It is important to note that the user story is a summary and reminder of a conversation that the team had, not a substitute for conversation and collaboration.”

Tip 3: Satisfaction and acceptance

Lastly, an ideal user story will typically include two things: ‘conditions of satisfaction’ and ‘acceptance criteria’. In agile working, acceptance criteria is very well known, but conditions of satisfaction are not.

Conditions of satisfaction are solution agnostic conditions by which the user value will be released. When you have a user story available, you can work out, regardless of the route, what are the success criteria, definitions, goals or quality metrics that you want to achieve? And then separate to that, you’ll have your acceptance criteria which are solution-specific.

For example, using the user story above, the conditions of satisfaction might be:

  • High value referrals completion results in instant notification
  • Medium value referrals completion results in daily notification
  • Low value referrals completion results in weekly digest notification

Acceptance criteria (using the simple “Can I …?” format) might be:

  • Can I choose SMS or push notification for high value referrals notification?
  • Can I choose time of day for medium value referrals notification?
  • Can I choose which day of the week for low value referrals notification?
  • Can I specify an email address for medium and low value referrals notification?
  • Can I receive each of the notifications?

If the team determines in a product backlog refinement session that the product backlog item is too large, then they can split the user story, e.g. by referrals value.

I hope the video and tips above help you to create better user stories or product backlog items for your team. Once concrete stories are created using the suggestions above, the work can be better understood, managed, executed and tested to bring real value to the business.

If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, leave a comment below or send me a message through my website. Thanks for reading. See you next time!


About the Author

An agilist since 2010 and in product management since the 90s, Georg Fasching helps digital creative agencies delight their clients, fulfil their people, and improve their prosperity.