User Stories – strategic value?

23Aug09

I recently read a fantastic post by Penny Hagen and Michelle Gilmore about utilising user stories as a strategic design tool.

I currently work for a small digital consultancy within a not-for-profit organisation called the Inspire Foundation. As mentioned within the post, we have had the opportunity to work with Penny on some of our projects as well as assisting us with defining our evolving methodology.

We use agile and Scrum for our development work and also have a very dedicated UX research stream.  Our philiosophy is grounded in evidence based research and consequently UX research and the users perspective is highly valued.

I wanted to post a link to a post by Michelle Gilmore and Penny Hagen called User Stories: a stretegic design tool which discusses the strategic value of user stories. This article discusses how user stories can also be used during the initial design and research phases of the project.

User stories are a single sentence that name the user and the goal they are trying to achieve. For example as a visitor, I can find information about the organisation. They concisely express objectives from a users perspective.

User stories are used within the agile development methodology. Within agile development, these user stories tend to be very granular and functional in emphasis.

This article explores the value of using high level user stories for project definition and describes how to achieve this.

The strategic value: from a user-centerd design perspective, high level user stories can be used to help see themes and to help define the service. Their format enables a users perspective to be clearly expressed and results in the capturing of users needs and objectives. In a collaborative environment with a cross-functional team, and the involvement of real users, authoring these user stories could yield very effective high level requirements.

SRC: User Stories: a stretegic design tool

During the initial phases of a project these stories should be high level and more strategic in focus. As the project progresses however, particularly during the development phase, these user stories can evolve to become more granular and functional in focus. For example, as a site administrator I can edit and delete a comment a  member leaves on a blog post.

My experience with this: Within my organisation, during development, user stories are the common currency between the client, development and project management team, and are used as a way of prioritisation, and scheduling development and tracking progress of the project. (Read more about agile and user stories). Hence as a consequence of using agile, our client and project team is very familiar with the use of user stories.

What really stands out for me: (and what I think is very clearly expressed in this post) is the value of using user stories in the strategic phases AS WELL AS the development phases of the project. Doing this creates a real sense of continuity, whereby the strategic, high level user stories, can easily evolve into more granular functional user stories during development. They can also function as tools to communicate the projects objectives throughout the development life-cycle whereby high level user experience objectives, can fragment and evolve to turn into specific user stories describing features further down the track. They really help focus the project team, through utilising a shared communication device, putting everybody on the same page.

If you think this approach sounds interesting, read the post to find out how and give it a go! Also get in touch if you want more information about our experience with this process.

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