Telling stories with Agile

The importance of user stories.

User stories are an indispensable part of the Agile toolkit. Written collaboratively by the Scrum Team together with the Product Owner, the user story defines: who the person using the service is (the Actor), what the person needs the service for (the Narrative) and why the user needs it (the Goal). Each user story expresses a functional increment of work which contributes to the overall value of the final product.

Purpose

For Agile teams, user stories are an excellent way of organising projects into manageable, bite-sized units of development work that deliver tangible value in the form of an individual working piece of functionality. These chunks contain sufficient information to ensure that they can be prioritised and therefore that developers can produce an accurate enough estimate to undertake Sprint planning. More broadly, user stories are a fantastic way of grounding projects in real life, making sure that the goals of the project always remain aligned with the outcomes desired by the customer. They also serve to ensure that everyone understands what is required, where this requirement comes from and the impact of the requirement and any changes to it. User stories help teams to understand where requirements sit on the spectrum between “As Is” (i.e. the current process within an organisation) and “To Be” (i.e. the desired post-change process that the project aims to deliver). They’re the key to organising delivery, driving estimation, testing, tracking defects and gathering feedback from the business.

Practice

How, then, do you go about putting user stories into practice? First, the Business Analyst works to ensure that they understand the “As Is” process within the business, and then collaborates with the business and the team to define the “To Be”. They then embark upon writing the stories that will deliver those changes. The stories may be too large to deliver within one Sprint, so they are often broken down into smaller stories which can be delivered feasibly within the span of a single Sprint. The Business Analyst works together with the team and the business to review the story, at which point all parties have the opportunity to share questions or queries, usually at a Backlog Governance meeting, during which the team reviews the stories and the status of the project to track how progress aligns with the user stories.

Progress

Together, the Business Analyst, Development and Testing team and the Solutions Architect define how the user story will be accomplished using design options. Once the team has reached a shared understanding of the requirements of the story, the Business Analyst reports back to the business to present design options, seeking sign-off on the inputs from the Development and Testing team and the Solutions Architect. The team then takes the stories that are ready into the Sprint to begin development and tracks progress against them.

The benefits of user stories are myriad. They offer a quick and simple way of processing user requirements and ensure the Sprint planning can be effectively utilised. More broadly, user stories ensure that everyone on the team knows what is expected of them and that planning is completed punctually, leaving Sprint time free to accomplish the delivery.

 

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