What is a User Story? | Definition and Overview

User stories are part of the agile approach. They shift the focus from writing to talking about the requirements. Each and every agile user story includes a sentence or two. And most importantly they include a series of conversations about a particular functionality. 


These user stories are written through an agile project. And the best part is anybody can write a story. Simply put, all the members of your team can write an example of the user story at the end of the project. It is used in the Agile software development field most particularly in the Scrum Framework. Want to know more about user stories? Then check this link out.


By the end of this article, you will find answers to all your questions such as what is a user story, when is it to be written and who writes them. So stick till the end.


What is a user story?


User stories are a description that is written in everyday language that explains the functionalities or features of particular software from an end-user perspective. This tool is normally used in product development or agile software management. Most of the agile experts describe it as the smallest unit of product development work that will help you in delivering value to your customers.


The main purpose of writing user stories is to see how a particular project will deliver back value to the end-users. Product teams usually break the development work into user stories rather than product requirements and features. The reason is simple, they are fairly easy for people to understand as they are written in informal language. With users stories, the team will concentrate on real people instead of abstract features.


As you have already understood most of the user stories are mostly written by or for the customers or users to influence the features or functionalities of the software that is being developed. However, the usage of user stories is not the same among all product teams. In some, anyone can write the user story, stakeholders are also involved in the discussions and the stories are simply made up or written based on the personas. While in other teams, the project owner is responsible for formulating and organising the user stories into a product backlog.


The user story is not a replacement for technical requirements, documentation or use cases. It is a starting point that establishes the real product requirement and helps the team in achieving that goal.


Why user stories?


Through a project lifecycle, the requirements change as the customers and team learn new details about the system. The team usually doesn’t just create a requirement list, work it off and then deliver the project. However, that is not the case and most importantly it is not realistic too. As you learn new things about the system or the product, the requirements also change.


One of the important reasons why agile software development is using the user stories approach is, these stories help the developers connect with the outside world and create a product that delivers value to the users. If your team wants to benefit from this approach then they connect with the users and learn about their pain points and gain areas. Simply put, to deliver a quality product the development team must connect with clients and understand their emotions and needs.


With user stories, one can reduce the time spent on writing the long documentation. Instead, they can utilise this time to deliver the quality software quickly making both customers and the team happy. 


Benefits of a User story


Here are a few benefits of using user story approach in the agile software development, they are


  • Its consistent and simple format saves time when prioritising and capturing requirements
  • It leaves you with satisfaction as you will be able to deliver a quality product that meets your client needs 
  • Foster collaboration between the development team, end-user and the product owner
  • Improves communication between the team and users, the feedback received from the users will help them in making the product better
  • Boosts transparency between all the parties involved in the development of the product
  • Helps developers in understanding  customer pain-points better, so that they can provide appropriate solutions


What are the characteristics of a user story?


User stories act as a bridge between the product developers and the users. These user stories are usually written on the index cards with primary focus as end-users satisfaction. These index cards consist of one or more sentences. But just in these one or two sentences, the user story should capture the why who and what of a particular feature in a simple way. These are often limited to details as they are hand-written on an index card.


In the Scrum framework, it is usually small as it should be delivered in one sprint and be valuable enough so the user can use it and provide their feedback. 


Here are the characteristics of a good user story


Most people use the familiar agile format for user story writing ie., “As an (end-user), I want (requirement/goal), for this (benefit)”. But this may not work out in each and every case, soon they will find themselves in issues such as finding the right story size, scope, complexity etc. So here are the characteristics of a good story, implement them in your user story.




Your user stories should never overlap with concepts. Working with user stories becomes easy when they’re independent. The team will often creatively split the functionalities to create more independent stories. 




The important characteristic of a user story is that it should be negotiable. It should capture the requirement of the product but not the detail. This way it provides the team with a chance to negotiate the approach and scope of developing the product.




The whole purpose of writing a user story is to understand the end-user pain points and deliver them a quality product that meets their requirements. So a good user story should always be valuable for the end-user. And it is only possible when your user story answers “why”. If you get answers for that question then you can develop an amazing product so the user can use it and provide you with the feedback. This way you can avoid creating stories that don’t deliver value.




What is the point of writing a user story, if it is not beneficial to the team? A good user story should be so clear that the team should be able to estimate the amount of time and effort it takes to deliver the testable and deliverable feature. The estimate will help in forecasting the delivery timeline and budget too. 




A good user story should be small. Because of the work exceeds a week, then it may directly affect the delivery of the features. As you know, if development gets delayed so will the users’ feedback. So you must always remember that your user story should be small and delivered on time to the team.




A good user story should be testable. Simply put, the user or the product owner must understand the user story clearly so that they can write the tests and perform them. Your story should be testable, in case it is not then you must reframe in such a way that it can be tested.


How to write user stories? 


There are a few things that you must consider while writing a user story. So the important thing that you must remember while writing your story is that it should describe the end-state ( task to complete or goal to achieve). When you’re writing you must make sure that your story conveys the end-point clearly. So that your team can track the development of the project easily. Always remember that your story should include all the required details to finish the task mentioned in the story. Simply put, apart from writing the story, you must outline and divide the tasks and assign them to the concerned people.


If you want your user story to be helpful for the team then you must also document the type of customer or user you are addressing in the story. In case, if you have many users in mind then create one story for each type. According to the concept of the user story mapping, you must consider that your product is a series of jobs or tasks that your users will be able to complete with the product’s help. So if you want to structure the development work clearly then write each step as a user story. 


To improve your chances of developing a product that will resonate with your customers and the market, you must connect with them first. Learn about their priorities, understand their emotions, requirements in the product. If you want to write user stories that help your team then analyse information gathered from the user’s answers. 


You must remember that if a user story takes longer than one sprint then it will delay your feedback and delivery time. So all the stories that are taking longer than one sprint should be divided into smaller pieces to work effectively.


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