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Authoring Effective User Stories

Tags: Agile Enablement , User Stories


Transitioning to Agile brings a lot of new things. With Agile comes new roles, new types of meetings, a different type of work environment, and new ways to communicate requirements. In this article, we are going to discuss some helpful tips on creating User Stories to effectively communicate your requirements to the Development Team.

Let's start by taking a look at what a User Story is. User Stories are not Use Cases. Use Cases define the interaction between an Actor and the System and normally have a great amount of detail. Like a Use Case, User Stories communicate what someone or something does with a piece of software to produce a desired result. Where they differ is in the detail. A User Story provides just enough detail for a person to understand what needs to be accomplished, while leaving room for interpretation.

Along with communicating requirements, the Development Teams utilize User Stories to help plan and track the progress of the project. Ultimately, User Stories help establish the foundation of a successful project.

With that said, how can we ensure we write effective User Stories? INVEST is a very helpful acronym to remember:


Independent - All User Stories should be autonomous from one another. When a User Story is independent, it has the ability to be delivered to production at the end of the Sprint, if need be, without relying on something else.

Negotiable - User Stories are not set in stone. Early in a project, User Stories may have little detail. As the team grooms the backlog and items are ready to be worked on, the stories get refined to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of each story.

Valuable - One Agile Principle is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. The key word here is valuable. Each User Story you create should provide some sort of value to the consumer or end user.

Estimate-able - The development team should be able to review your User Story and provide a level of effort to it. If the team cannot provide an estimate on the User Story, it needs to be clarified or refined.

Small - Another Agile Principle is to deliver working software frequently. User Stories need to be small enough to fit into short cycles.

Testable - Each User Story should be testable. If a tester or user does not know how to test a particular User Story, it probably needs to be clarified or refined.  When a User Story is independent and small, it should be testable. 

Just because you ran your User Story through the INVEST check list does not mean you are finished. Remember to add any additional information you feel the Development Team may need to understand what is being asked, assist in accurately estimating the task, and help meet the team’s "Definition of Done". If needed, include references to Process Flows, UI Mockups, etc. with your User Story.

Remember, Agile puts a lot of focus around team collaboration and reflection to improve the team's efficiency. Actively talk to your team members and see how they feel about your User Stories. See what they think is working and where there could be room for improvement. Then, make adjustments if needed.


About The Author

Principal Consultant

Eric is a Principal Consultant and member of Agile Advisory Services at Cardinal Solutions, as well as Scrum Master and Coach. Over the past 10 years he has served as a Business Analyst, Project Manager, and Scrum Master working to implement complex technology solutions in several industries. Eric is passionate about building strong, high-performing agile teams while keeping things fun for the team.