PM Hack #16: Do your development team a favor–Tell them a story

User stories are an excellent way for business teams to tell development teams what features/functions are needed because they cut straight to the chase.

Let’s say I want the team developing my new blogging app to provide me with a Preview button.

I could write this:

The system as designed must provide the ability for blog writers to instantly preview posts by pressing a ‘Preview’ button.”

Not bad, I suppose. But the language is passive, and has a tendency to make one a bit… yawn… sleepy. Further, once it’s lumped in as sub-bullet alongside my other, similar, 10-pt Arial sub-bulleted requirements on page umpteen of a dense (albeit beautifully and painstakingly crafted… wait–is that gold leaf embossing on the title page???) requirements document, there’s a chance it may be missed. Lastly, there is no indication what benefit this this functionality will provide (although, we can probably guess). In short, there is a risk I won’t get what I want because the team doesn’t see what I want or doesn’t fully understand.

Now, what if I were to change it up a bit; what if I were to say it like this, instead:

As a blog writer, I want to instantly preview my post by pressing a ‘Preview’ button so that I can see what my post will look like from the reader’s perspective before I publish it.

By using the format…

“As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>”

…I have come right to the point, explaining what I want clearly and simply. In addition, the language is active, putting the developer in my shoes. I have communicated three things:

  1. What feature to build <some goal>;
  2. The context it will be used in <type of user>;
  3. Its relevance <some reason>.

What if I were to simplify things even further by writing my statement on a card or a Post-It note that the development team could stick on a wall, along with other user stories so they could get stand back to get a look at the big picture? This would save time and effort because my focus would be on documenting what I want rather than documenting what I want. It would also make it easier for my dev team to understand what I want in the context of everything else I’ve asked for because it would be a statement on a card on a wall that the team could move around and group with other, similar user stories when deciding what to work on next.

That’s agile in’it?


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