For agile teams, product development centers around the target consumer. The audience is the core of the agile practice and the basis for all design and production decisions. Because of this, project teams need a way into the user’s mindset to understand the whats and whys of their day-to-day needs.

Agile user stories are a direct link to consumers’ frames of mind. These narratives reflect customer motivations, establish context for product development, and build necessary empathy and perspective to satisfy users.

Knowing how to write a user story is imperative to craft products and features that continuously delight customers and drive value for the organization.

What’s a user story?

A user story is the smallest unit of work in the Agile at Scale framework, requiring a single sprint or iteration to complete. They’re the building blocks of the larger project structure, connecting to form epics, which, in turn, comprise initiatives. Using this framework allows project teams to link everyday activities to the bigger picture: long-term organizational goals and objectives.

User stories leverage simple, informal language to describe how a feature will deliver value to the customer. The straightforward and jargon-free terminology avoids technical detail, helping everyone outside the development team understand the content.

These chronicles can flexibly integrate into your procedures regardless of which agile software development implementation you use. For agile scrums, product owners add the user story to the backlog, and then the team divides it into individual tasks known as story points during the sprint planning process. Throughout the sprint, the group can use a burndown chart to visually track these points, easily monitoring progress until they complete the job. In the planning and estimation phases, using the technique leads to more effective forecasting and greater adaptability.

For Kanban teams, user stories join the project backlog so staff can run through them within their workflow. Stories encourage these groups to manage work in progress (WIP) more efficiently and refine workflow processes.

Product owners are responsible for managing story writing and placing them into the backlog, but the entire cross-functional team contributes to their development.

How to create a user story: 6 steps

Writing a user story isn’t complicated, but it takes some preparation and research to execute effectively. Here’s a simple six-step checklist to ensure you cover all the bases.

1. Define “done”

Keep in mind the development process’s end-state as defined in the user story. The first step is determining every task’s acceptance criteria so the development team understands when it’s complete.

2. List tasks and subtasks

Document the technical details required to complete the feature’s development work as tasks and subtasks. These tasks should contribute to the project’s momentum and follow a logical organizational structure to ensure an effective, comprehensible workflow.

3. Identify the user

Determine which end-user this new or updated feature will serve and include relevant details in your project documentation. If you identify multiple types of potential users, create a persona and corresponding user story for each so you can focus on achieving specific objectives for all customers.

4. Create a story map

Using your list of tasks and subtasks, place work items into a story map outlining necessary steps for completion. Be mindful of task dependencies and potential concurrent project steps. These can inform your project timeline and workflow, helping you efficiently optimize your time and resources.

5. Source user feedback

Because agile project management is user-centric, it’s essential to seek feedback from your target audience so the work will meet their needs and resonate with your market. Consider how you might circulate surveys, hold focus groups, and conduct iterative testing during development. The insights you gain can help you improve and adapt your product to meet your audience’s preferences and practical needs.

6. Draft the story

Finally, compose your user story. Remember, user narratives should require no more than a sprint to complete. If you estimate completing yours will take longer due to complexity or multifaceted audiences, break the story down into more specific components and write a simpler narrative applicable to each. This allows the team to focus on particular updates and functionalities more efficiently.

Components of a great user story

Once you’ve written the user story, evaluate it using the INVEST criteria developed by Bill Wake to ensure it’s easy to understand, estimate, and work off of, leading to greater efficiency throughout the development process.

The INVEST acronym stands for:

  • Independent: Ensure there are no interdependencies between user stories so you can work on them in any order.
  • Negotiable: The user story should capture the essence of the customer’s perspective while being flexible enough for the team to select the best implementation method. Dialogue between the customer and the development team will contribute to creating a unique and productive outcome.
  • Valuable: Each user story should convey a product or service’s benefit to the end-user. If you can’t put the ultimate value into words, the story will be ineffective.
  • Estimable: Your story must help you establish a realistic timeline for delivering the requirements. If the timeline is vague or incorrect, your team’s workflows will be inefficient, potentially leading to project failure.
  • Small: Team members should be able to design, code, and test the work within one sprint or iteration based on the story map. If this isn’t the case, break the user story down into more digestible and realistic parts.
  • Testable: Establish clear acceptance criteria for every task and end product to ensure proper user story implementation. Be sure your story map allows for testing iterations of your product throughout the development process and comparing results to pre-defined requirements.

User stories: Pros and cons

Writing user stories may seem time-consuming, as opposed to jumping right into feature design and development. But they offer significant benefits to an agile project and product management team.

Here are some potential advantages:

  • Shared understanding: Because user stories avoid jargon and overly technical terms, they reduce potential confusion across teams around the customer’s desired outcome.
  • Added flexibility: With a lack of technical details, stories don’t lock teams into specific or rigid protocols, allowing them to customize or adjust processes to suit the market or customer’s changing needs.
  • Improved teamwork: A straightforward development process facilitates team alignment with the end goal as it makes communication and mutual understanding more straightforward. This collaborative clarity improves relations and fosters cohesive individual and cross-functional teams.

Like any structural or work process change, implementing user stories comes with its challenges. Here are some pitfalls to be aware of:

  • Insufficient detail: While story language is supposed to be informal and simple, user stories are sometimes too vague and don’t add any value for the team.
  • Reduced work quality: A good user story requires extensive research and regular communication with stakeholders to properly define the persona. These steps take considerable time — if they’re rushed or neglected, stories can lack critical information and adversely affect work quality.
  • Limited vision: Because they focus on a single user requirement, stories can create tunnel vision. This causes teams to lose sight of a product or organization’s bigger picture, which can lead to missed improvement opportunities and misalignment with broader goals.

User story examples

User stories follow a standard format, leveraging simple, everyday language to describe how a feature will deliver customer value. The template is simple:

As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].

  • Persona: The persona determines the feature’s target audience, helping the team develop a shared understanding and empathize with the client, their needs, and their problems.
  • Want to: This section defines user intent without referencing implementation details, describing what they’re trying to achieve by using your product or its features.
  • So that: Here, the story explains how serving the user’s specific wants will help them solve a problem or achieve a goal.

Here are a few story examples to consider:

  • As a project manager, I want to visualize my team’s progress compared to plan expectations so that I can create status reports quickly and easily.
  • As a remote team leader, I want our work management system to include a file-sharing and archiving functionality so that team members have centralized access for reviewing project documentation.
  • As an online gamer, I want to receive a notification when my friends access the platform so that I can invite them to play within my gaming environment.
  • As Nora, I want to track my order’s delivery so that I can see when my mother received her flower arrangement.

Agile made easier

Story mapping is a breeze when you use Roadmunk by Tempo. Integrated with Atlassian’s Jira project management software, you can easily visualize your team’s workflows. Additionally, Tempo’s portfolio management application, Structure, lets you prioritize ideas within your epics, creating an easy-to-follow hierarchy of tasks for your team to follow. Add Timesheets, a simple-to-use resource management software, to monitor work hours and ensure deliverables arrive by the end of the sprint. With Tempo, you have everything you need to deliver great results tailored to your unique users.