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Know All About User Stories in Agile Product Development



Understanding the life cycle of user stories in agile | Net Solutions

The Agile development methodology is powering a significant part of the software projects today.

68.6% of the leaders define Agile product development as a holistic approach that focuses on customers’ needs and is quick to respond to changes in the marketplace. — Net Solutions’ Agile Product Development Report

The methodology’s USP is to develop software with respect to the defined user stories, i.e., definitive yet informal description of a feature and its corresponding characteristics from the customer’s perspective. These user stories in agile then form the basis for on-track development of the software.

Agile user stories help drive the organization’s efforts towards understanding the end user’s perspective, thereby leading them one step ahead on their path to achieve 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

Every Product Development project needs to integrate the user story into the process so that the team understands what they are building, why they are building it, what user problems it will solve, and how to prioritize their sprint cycles and WIP (Work in Progress) limits.

How do you write a User Story in Agile?

Agile user stories are written by the product owners or the product managers before they are presented for review and approval. However, anyone who understands the user problems and listed requirements can write user stories in agile development.

Standard agile user story format – “As a [role], I want [goal] so that [benefit].”

Agile User Story Example
As a: salesperson Intent: This segment defines the personas (customers) and their mindset.
Answers:

Who are your customers

What is their mindset

I want: a customer relationship management software Intent: This segment defines the problems and the wants of the customers
Answers:

What is the end goal of the customer?

So that I can manage all my client conversations in one place Intent: This segment defines the aftereffect of including a feature, i.e., the benefit
Answers:

What is the advantage of incorporating the user story in Agile?

What problem are you solving for?

What is the Lifecycle of User Stories in Agile?

The agile user story lifecycle refers to the stages it goes through until its underlying requirements are addressed.

The process starts with defining the customers’ expectations from the software and ends with delivering it to the customers, i.e., launching it in the market.

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.

What is an Epic?

Large user stories that are complex to understand when defined using the standard format are called epics. For simplification, the user stories are divided into smaller, understandable user stories.

Here’s an agile user story lifecycle diagram to help you understand the backend sprint process.

Agile User Story Workflow Diagram | Net Solutions

What are the Three C’s of User Stories?

Before moving ahead with understanding the life cycle of a user story in Agile development methodology, here are the three C’s of user stories that help define them better.

1. Cards

These are the post-its or any small story 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 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, etc.
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 or customer 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.

Agile Product Development Report Cover Page | Net Solutions


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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 develop one story per scrum. This way, you would be progressing towards clubbing the smaller pieces together that make the entire product work.

Here is an overview of the lifecycle stages of user stories in agile for more in-depth insight.

1. 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 Agile development team can’t be acting on all of them at once; hence it’s important to align them based on the urgency.

The popular method of user story prioritization is:

MoSCoW Prioritization

MoSCoW stands for — Must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and will-not haves in terms of features. User stories in Agile circle around this prioritization technique to ensure that the customer’s needs are taken care of with respect to urgency.
Let’s discuss each of the MoSCow parameters in detail:

  • Must-Have Features: These features should be included (at any cost) in the software on a priority basis. These features define the product and form its foundation.
  • Should-Have Features: These are the features that need to be added to the software and add significant value. However, these can be prioritized once the must-haves have been developed and delivered.
  • Could-Have Features: These are the features that can improve the product but can be avoided if the budget or the delivery timelines are restrictive. However, the development team can work on them after the building and launching MVP.
  • Will-Not-Have Features: These features offer less value and can be omitted from the product backlog. In general, these are the features that customers care less about.

For example, social login integrations may demand higher priority (a must-have) than a PayPal payment integration ( a should-have) for a particular product. It is essential to sit along with the team and hold discussions over prioritizing the tasks at this initial stage.

2. 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 software development process, in order of their preference. How does the product owner or the product manager know which user stories are being worked upon?

This problem is solved by setting the status for each of the user stories.
The development team can manage the status of the user story 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 maintain the product backlog.

3. Agile Testing

Goal: To check the efficiency of the completed user story

The Agile development company might have done their bit with implementing the user stories. But do they work? Do they offer the solution that end-users expect? The answers to these and similar such questions lie with the Agile testing team that checks the feature’s workability and efficiency.

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

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. Acceptance Testing

Goal: Ensuring the user story adheres to the INVEST Standards and user acceptance testing

To ensure the delivery of a good story, the team needs to ensure that it adheres to the INVEST standards, which stands for:

  • Independent: The user stories should be independent of other user stories. The “As I, I want, and so that” of a particular user story should not depend on another user story.
  • Negotiable: The user stories should not be considered final at any stage of the product development process as the definition of a feature can change at any time. Thus, the user stories should be left open for review.
  • Valuable: The prioritized user stories should add value to the end-user, i.e., the prioritized user stories should add value to the end-user, i.e., the user problems need to be solved effectively.
  • Estimable: The size and the scope of the user story should be measurable. This will help in sub-categorizing the large user stories (epics) into smaller and manageable branched out tasks.
  • Small: The user story size should be small, i.e., the team should develop it in one or two sprint cycles.
  • Testable: It should be possible to test and deploy individual user stories without interference.

Another way to validate completed user stories is to run user acceptance tests with your end-users.

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

Agile User Story Example
Given A workable cloud-based CRM system Intent: Overview of a situation (some context)
When I communicate with ten leads in a day Intent: Explains some action that the user intends to carry out
Then I should be able to record them in the CRM in real-time Intent: Mentions the consequence of the action (which should satisfy the user goals)

Thus, we can write the complete user story from initialization to acceptance in the following format:

  • As a: Salesperson
  • I want: a customer relationship management software
  • So that: manage all my client conversations in one place
  • Given: A workable cloud-based CRM system
  • When: I communicate with ten leads in a day
  • Then: I should be able to record them in the CRM in real-time

Now that is a complete and connected user story that the Agile Development team needs to work on. If the story looks disconnected at any point, the user story needs to be reframed again over the sprint cycles until everything makes sense.

5. Delivery and Launch

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

At this stage, the agile lifecycle of a user story ends. This means that the project manager has approved, the quality assurance team has given the go-ahead, and user stories in agile adhere to the INVEST standards.

When the must-have user stories are implemented and tested, it’s the ideal time to consider launching the MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Post the launch — the Agile team can move over to the next user stories in the queue, i.e., with the should-haves and could-haves and the other incoming user stories based on customer feedback.

Benefits of User Stories in Agile

The benefits of framing user stories in agile include:

  • Facilitates a better understanding of the features that make up the product
  • The defined feature set of the product is customer-centric, which means that the requirements are enlisted from the user’s perspective
  • User stories boost productivity. When a story is complete, the team feels a sense of accomplishment and enthusiastically moves towards completing the user stories in the backlog.
  • Enables innovative Ideas! When the team has a better understanding of what they need to accomplish, they can think around creative ways to achieve it, which, in turn, helps disrupt the market.

Agile User Stories — Best Practices

Here are some best practices 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 Software 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 a product mindset over a project mindset because one should hold the accountability of the product throughout its lifetime

Conclusion

The sole objective of managing the Agile lifecycle of user stories is keeping track of the team’s progress while adhering to the product requirements document. 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 right 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 product mindset.

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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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