If we look at history, stories are one of the oldest forms of communication, serving as a means to impart knowledge, conjure emotions, and simplify complex ideas. Stories contain a main character, a plot, and an overall takeaway.
User stories have a similar structure. Our persona is the main character (the “who”), the functionality is the plot (the “what”), and the value delivered to the end user is the key takeaway (the “why”). They play a pivotal role in defining and delivering software products, providing a clear and concise description of specific functionalities from an end user's perspective.
Let's dig deeper into what user stories are, why they are important, and the goals of crafting great user stories. ⤵️
What Is a User Story?
A user story is an informal, general explanation of a software feature written from the perspective of the end user. Its purpose is to articulate how a software feature will provide value to the customer. —Atlassian.com
A user story describes a specific functionality from an end user’s perspective which is used to define product features. They are the smallest building block of a product, defining “micro-workflows” which can be built and released independently, but come together to create full features. In Agile, user stories are your source of truth, they place the end-user at the center of the conversation.
Why Are User Stories Important?
User stories provide clarity for everyone. Engineering has a better understanding of what they need to implement, QA can properly test the story, the client Product Owner has the information he/she needs to accept/reject the story, and the business value is better understood by the team.
Stories written from a user perspective make it easier to understand what the feature is actually doing. During IPMs (Iteration Planning Meetings) or client discussions, it’s much easier to have prioritization discussion when the business and user value is clear.
What Are the Goals of a User Story?
A user story is a simple description of a feature, told from the perspective of the “persona” who desires the functionality. It should do the following:
- Describe a feature in a way that is understandable to the product owner.
- Provide incremental contribution to a product’s user value.
- Have sufficient detail that an engineer can develop and QA can test.
User stories serve as essential tools in Agile development, providing clarity, focus, and value to the entire development process. By crafting great user stories, teams can align their efforts, understand user needs, and deliver features that create meaningful experiences for end users.
User Stories Are a Tool for Product Managers
Different organizations will vary how they define the Product Manager role, what responsibilities they assign the role, and why their Product Management function exists as a whole. However, one thing is consistent across the board—Product Managers need to communicate with a multitude of stakeholders including designers, engineers, marketers, salespeople, executives, and more to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering value to customers/end users.
Each stakeholder contributes to this goal differently and when it comes to the technical knowledge they have, each of them speak a different language. User stories are an essential tool for ensuring smooth collaboration with all of these parties and they help Product Managers to translate the value they are building for the product/service.
Let’s explore the benefit of user stories from the perspective of different stakeholders. ⤵️
Design, Development & QA
User stories are a cross-functional collaboration tool that ensure product teams operate smoothly, enabling developers, designers, testers, and other technical team members to work together effectively.
User-Centric Design—User stories guide the design process, ensuring that the product addresses the specific needs and expectations of users. Designers use user stories to inform the creation of personas, user flows, wireframes, and prototypes. By referring to user stories, the team can design features and functionalities that align with users' requirements and desired outcomes.
Agile Development—User stories are a key part of Agile development methodologies like Scrum. They form the basis for creating product backlogs and sprint planning. User stories are broken down into smaller, actionable tasks that can be estimated and scheduled for development iterations, which are then implemented by engineers.
Validation and Testing—By referring to user stories, acceptance criteria can be established collaboratively. This is able to guide QA with the creation of test cases and scenarios, helping the team assess the product's usability and functionality.
Sales & Marketing
User stories allow sales and marketing to understand the target user or "persona" centered inside of the story. They are able to better grasp the pain points they are facing and needs they have when searching for a solution.
- Sellers—They can leverage this information to better position their product/service offerings with prospects, build empathy into their communication, and even create a sense of urgency in the buying process.
- Marketers—They can leverage this information to craft detailed messaging in various forms of content like blogs, press releases, social media posts, website copy, and many other channels as well that communicate the value of your product. Using the product capabilities or the "what" defined in a user story, marketers can build copy and descriptions that align with the target audience.
Executives & Leadership
Product Managers will often need to get buy-in from C-suite executives and other leadership members in the client's organization who are ultimately the ones giving final sign-off and paying for the work you and your team are doing. User stories provide valuable insights and visibility to management about the progress of the project. They are able to track the work being done by the team, ensure that it aligns with the product vision, and make informed decisions about the project's direction.
User stories are not just descriptions; they are the keys to unlocking a user-centric approach to product development and ensuring that every feature contributes to the overall value of the product. As Product Managers, user stories serve as the ultimate translation tool to effectively communicate with various stakeholders. User stories ensure that the value you are incrementally building through new features doesn't get lost in translation during product development and throughout the overall product lifecycle.
Stay tuned for our next blog piece where we'll dive into how to write high-quality technical user stories!
Mandeep is the Associate Director of Product Management at TribalScale. He is a results driven digital product leader eager to contribute to the team’s success through positive relationship building, agile project management and strategic planning. He has experience in improving process efficiencies, leading product life cycles, and managing cross functional teams simultaneously.