I’ve been reading the wonderful User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton (Can’t recommend this book enough btw).
A point Jeff makes numerous times is that the eponymous user story template is merely an aid to conversation, in and of itself it is of little value – the whole aim is to stimulate a conversation above and beyond the story.
Sounds obvious right? queue eye rolls, we’ve heard this all before. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to fall into the trap of backlog completeness == number and breadth of user stories defined, and number of user stories defined held as proof that the conversations have happened – this isn’t always true.
User stories are comforting, they have a defined template, they are usually short, simple and make perfect sense. Its just that on their own they convey very little. They should be viewed as a reference card only; they are a reference and output of a wider and more encompassing discussion. The true value is in the discussion.
It is this discussion, debate and interaction that the user story has been designed to promote, yet in some cases the user story can be used as an excuse to avoid a conversation – don’t let this happen! this often leads to a simple, literal implementation of the user story. It doesn’t promote shared understanding and definitely doesn’t allow for alternatives to be ‘bounced around’
Remember two people can read the same sentence and infer two different meanings, only through conversation can you be sure you both have the same shared understanding.
Conversations are hard, templates are easy – so in this vein I’ve listed a few of the questions I encourage teams to ask:
What problem are we trying to solve? why are we doing this?
Who is this really for?
(I see a lot of stories with ‘as a user’ when in reality its not for one user at all – elaborate on the different types of users and their different needs)
What are we hoping to achieve by implementing this story?
Talk about the how?
(At a high level – not explicitly technical – use plain English! make sure assumptions and inhibitors are discussed.)
once the problem, users and desired outcomes have been understood
Talk about any better solutions/alternatives to achieve the same aims
This list above is very loose and generally leads to more questions – this is good and exactly what we are after – don’t limit yourself to the questions above but do try to include them – just get the conversation started!