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Understanding the Life Cycle of User Stories in Agile Product Development

understanding the life cycle of user stories in agile

The Agile development methodology is powering a significant part of the software projects today. As organizations march towards agile transformation, it has been helping them effectively incorporate the user needs in the development process from early on. And, if you come to think of it, Agile does focus on satisfying the customer through continuous delivery of spot-on user stories.

User stories in agile help drive the organization’s efforts towards understanding the end user’s perspective, thereby achieving a product-market fit.

User Stories are chunks of the desired behavior of a software system. They are widely used in agile software approaches to divide up a large amount of functionality into smaller pieces for planning purposes Martin Fowler, Software Developer, Author, and International Speaker

The product owner usually defines the role of user stories and the embedded tasks within them. Every Product Development project needs to integrate the user story into the process so that all small/big features can be enlisted and prioritized around real-life expectations.

Standard user story format“As a [user persona], I want [what the functionality is] so that [why the functionality is needed].”

user story format

Why Track the Life Cycle of User Story in Agile Development?

The user story life cycle proves to be very significant in monitoring the status of the development, quality, and the velocity at which the product is pacing up. These life cycles enhance transparency by allowing visibility to the team’s activities.

Every sprint is designed with the objective of addressing a specific user story. The sprint is divided into “Epics”, i.e., larger chunks of stories, which are further subdivided into smaller stories for the team’s convenience. Here’s a user story lifecycle diagram to help you understand the backend sprint process.

user story workflow diagram

The benefits of tracking a user story in agile include:

  • Enlisting and prioritizing user requirements based on urgency
  • Ease of managing every user story, irrespective of its size
  • Delivering value on-the-go by working on prototypes followed by MVPs
  • Developing a better understanding of the product and its corresponding features

The Three C’s of User Stories

Before moving ahead with understanding the life cycle of a user story in Agile, from its initialization to the completion phase, here are the three C’s of user stories that help avoid Agile transformation failures.

1. Cards

These are the post-its or any small cards that briefly explain the intent of the user story. Keeping the limited space of the cards in mind, it would be a good practice to stick to the user story name, rather than defining it.

An example of such a description could be – “Paypal Payment Integration”. This card description is short and crisp, and also conveys the intent of the user story perfectly.

2. Conversations

The product development team comprises of designers, developers, business analysts, product managers, product owners, quality analysts, and testers.

Communication within this cross-functional setup gives clarity of user pain points, the priority of solving them, the solution, the expectations from team members, and so on.

The teams arrange daily stand-ups to discuss user stories over the sprint life cycle and have productive conversations towards delivering speed and quality.

3. Confirmation

The objective of the confirmation phase is to roll down the acceptance criteria for the shortlisted user stories. This would ensure that every user story has some quality parameters to adhere to, and they are implemented successfully.

Every scenario revolving around the user pain point is accessed so that no loopholes are left when designing the product.

It is more like testing the feature with all possible probabilities and seeing whether the expectations can be met or not. If the answer is not affirmative, user stories need to be penned down again.

User Stories in Agile – The Lifecycle Stages

Every user story is critically essential for the overall success of the product. The right strategy could be to implement one story per scrum. This way, you would be progressing towards clubbing the smaller pieces together that make the entire application work.

For a deeper insight, here is an overview of each of these user story life cycle stages.

1. To-Do: User Story Prioritization

Goal: Ranking user stories based on the urgency of solving the problem

Once the product owner has assembled the different types of user stories on the cards or post-its, the next task is to prioritize them. There might be tens or hundreds of stories, and the development team can’t be acting on all of them at once; hence it’s important to align them based on the urgency.

For example, social login integrations may demand higher priority than a PayPal payment integration for a particular product. So, it is important at this initial stage to sit along with your peers and hold discussions over prioritizing the tasks. Once done with lining up user priorities, the sprint backlogs can be prepared well in advance to lend a hand with Agile Estimation.

2. Monitoring Work Progress – Building Workflow Transparency

Goal: Building awareness around the progress of the user stories

The sprint backlog is already in place for all the user stories in the Agile Development process, in order of their preference. But, how does the product owner or the product manager know which user stories are being worked upon? This problem is solved by setting status for each of the user stories.

The status of the user story can be managed by the development team on a digital sprint taskboard. It will help maintain transparency by visualizing the flow and the progress of user stories. Moreover, it can also help estimate the gap between completed and pending user stories, which further helps in measuring team progress.

3. Quality Testing – To Check the Totality and Functionality of the User Story

Goal: To check the efficiency of the completed user story

The Agile development team might have done their bit with implementing the various ideas behind the user story. But do they work? Do they offer the solution that end-users expect? The answers to these and similar such questions lie with the quality assurance testing team that checks the workability and efficiency of the feature.

The quality team runs all sorts of quality tests such as unit testing, integration testing (with the flow of other user stories incorporated), functional testing, acceptance or beta testing, and so on.

In case of any bugs, the user story development process is iterated, to incorporate the changes. The team can again pick the tasks from the sprint backlog while the other user stories are put on hold.

4. User Acceptance Testing – To See Whether the User Story Appeals to the Users

Goal – Seeking validation from the end-users

The development team would have consulted a group of end-users when creating user stories for their expectations and pain points. Now, it is time to reach out to them again for the feedback on the feature built. This process is called user acceptance testing, and getting their approval indicates that the product is on the right track.

The commonly used format for acceptance testing“Given[a situation], When[describes an action], Then[user expectation].”

user acceptance testing format

They may accept or reject it. In the latter case, remember that their opinion is everything, and user story lifecycle should be iterated until accepted by the users.

5. Story Completed – Getting on with MVP Development

Goal – To deliver a user story and move on to the next one

At this stage, the lifecycle of a user story ends. This means that the project manager has approved, the quality assurance team has given a go-ahead, and user testing has been a success.

If the user stories accepted so far are enough to run the basic application, it’s the ideal time to consider launching the MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Now the project team can successfully and confidently move over to the next user story to continue with the overall project delivery lifecycle.

Points to Remember When Transitioning Across Stages

Here are some precautions and considerations that should be kept in mind by the entire product development team.

  • Changes in user needs or market conditions can change the functional and business requirements at any time. The product teams should not hesitate from reworking on them
  • Split the user story structure if it seems too complicated to be implemented in one go
  • Proceed with another user story development only when the previous ones are accepted and completed
  • Use scrum in Agile Development as it offers a structured and disciplined way to complete tasks and deliver value
  • Conduct daily scrum meetings to keep track of the work in progress, along with fostering communication
  • Try not to misinterpret user stories, consult the end-users before coming to a conclusion
  • Instill product mindset over project mindset because one should hold the accountability of the product throughout its lifetime

Conclusion

The sole objective of managing the lifecycle of user stories in Agile is keeping track of the team’s progress while adhering to the product requirements. It is a standardized process that needs to be followed to ensure the speedy delivery of quality software.

Tracking user stories also helps build communication among the product development teams distributed across the organization. All the life cycle stages of a user that have been discussed have a role in itself as they contribute towards building a scalable product that would have minimal failure chances.

For every successful product, it has never been only about choosing a flexible (agile) development methodology but also about adapting to a flexible mindset.

Contact net Solutions for Agile Product Development.

Ashish Dhawan

About the Author

Ashish Dhawan is working as a Business Analyst at Net Solutions. His major interest and experience lies in the healthcare domain and enterprise-related applications.

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