21 June 2021

The Who, What & Why: User Stories in Agile Development

agile project management

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GearedApp Team

If you’re new to an Agile way of working, terms like “user story” may feel a little overwhelming. User stories play a pivotal role in any Agile development sprint, but what are they and how do we use them?

Join us as we take a deep dive into the who, what and why of user stories, and our process of writing them.

What are User Stories ?

In traditional software development, at the beginning of a project, project managers and developers create a long list of features to be built, working their way through it and checking it off as they go. In Agile we use a different system, describing all of our tasks and actions using a collection of descriptors that we call user stories. A user story is exactly what it says on the tin – it describes each software feature from the perspective of the end-user.

User Stories often take on the structure: As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].

By using this format it allows us to think just like the user of the software product. It helps us to answer questions like, what does the user want from this app? Why are they using it? Does it fulfil its desired purpose?

user story mapping


Why Create User Stories?

Outside of the box thinking

With traditional methods of software development, it’s easy to get focused on a feature and the process of building it, rather than asking why am I building this? Or, is this the best option to fulfill the user’s needs? User stories help us to identify flaws in a software product, and highlight what may be missing from the user’s perspective. In doing this, the team can work together to come up with creative solutions, figuring out exactly the best features for every product. User stories foster a non-linear way of thinking and allow us to be flexible in our approach – if something isn’t right then let’s figure out what is.

Looking at the bigger picture

We all know what it’s like to have that long to-do list of never-ending tasks, and even the thought of starting it is mind-numbing. In a development project, we find it helps to keep us all motivated and on track by taking the focus away from the task at hand and drawing it to the bigger picture – the end user. Yes, in every project there needs to be a set structure of what must be done. However, with user stories the focus is on the person who will be utilising each feature. User stories allow us to understand the reason for a desired outcome, as opposed to a “function” with no context.

Collaboration as a team

Agile is all about working together, communication and all-round transparency, and user stories play a big part in that. Not only do user stories keep everyone on track to meet the end-goal, but they help drive communication with the team working as one to best serve the end user.

Celebrating the small successes

With every successful story completed, it feels like a small victory. Breaking down tasks into bite-sized user stories helps us all to feel more productive and builds momentum with the whole team.

When are User Stories Created?

At the beginning of every development project, we hold what is called “sprint planning” – you can find out more about this and our way of working here. During sprint planning, estimates and forecasts are created outlining how much work the team thinks will be involved. A part of this is defining user stories and working out the features that will best meet the user’s needs. However, as the project progresses writing user stories resumes throughout with adaptations and new stories added continuously. Often people even start writing user stories ahead of sprint planning to begin to understand prioritisation of the project, and the product roadmap.
product strategy meeting

Who Creates User Stories?

Typically, with in-house development the product owner creates the user stories. However, at GearedApp we work collaboratively alongside our clients to develop their digital solutions. This means that we create user stories together as a team. We find collaboration is always the way to secure success in a project. Regular and effective communication allows us to deliver exactly what our clients want.

How to Write a User Story

Define your user

The first step in writing a user story is defining exactly who your user is. Who will be using your app or website, what will they be using it for, and what need does it fulfill? User personas are a great technique to help in this. Personas are fictional characters based on the target audience of the platform. Defining your audience’s attitudes, behaviours and characteristics helps to put yourself in your user’s shoes and define exactly who they are.

Set a structure

Although there may not be a set list of features to be built, it is still crucial that there is structure on what must be done. Prioritise your user stories, work out the order of activities, and be very clear on who is completing each task. Communication is everything.

Keep it simple

User stories are there to break things down so keep it simple and make sure they are easy to understand. Avoid using jargon or confusing terms, and think about your user.

Example of a User Story

With user stories, by focussing on the goal we can step back and think about whether we can find iterative ways to achieve the required outcome for a user. For example, for a restaurant chain we may consider chat as a feature for their app .For this, the user story would be:

As a restaurant customer, I want to communicate with restaurant staff so that I can discuss issues with my order.

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

When slicing this up, we may find that the best option is through email. If we had a set list of features, this flexibility and problem-solving mindset would not be possible.

team meeting


Securing Success with User Stories

Understanding user stories is the first step in any successful development project. Use this handy guide, and always remember to think about your end-ser. User stories don’t have to be as complicated as you may think.

Choose Agile Development with GearedApp

Our friendly team of pros will be with you every step of the way, from our initial sit-down chat all the way to releasing the finished product. Discover our process to find out more about how GearedApp works.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help turn your awesome ideas into a digital reality.