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The agile user story

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The agile user story

In the second part of our agile article series, we review the main features and benefits of agile user stories.

The importance of the agile user story

The proper design and application of user stories is extremely important in agile software development.

The agile approach basically strives to adapt quickly and flexibly to changing needs and challenges.

Creating and understanding user stories is key to this process, as they provide transparency into a team’s activities and enable them to continuously focus on creating real business value.

Topics of our article series

1. Overview of the agile squad
2. The agile user story
3. Measuring the performance of the agile squad
4. Agile ceremonies with a practical eye (planned)
5. Agile Documentation…Is It Really Needed? (planned)
6. Let’s split it up, or what incremental development really is! (planned)
7. Backlog or Blacklog? (planned)
8. Let’s plan a sprint! (planned)
9. Long-term planning vs. agility (planned)
10. The agile organization with an HR perspective (planned)
11. The challenges of agility in an enterprise environment (planned)
12. Agile operation in the shadow of the home office (planned)
13. Where should agile operations be used? (planned)

Differences between classic and agile specifications

The approach represented by user stories is significantly different from the traditional methodology based on detailed specifications. While the classical approach to software design focuses on detailed specifications and requirements, which are difficult and slow to modify after their acceptance, user stories are more flexible and can be more easily adapted to changing needs.

User stories primarily focus on user goals and requirements and allow teams to concentrate directly on the user experience. A user story is a short, simple, and to-the-point description of why a particular functionality is needed and what is the user goal or need that needs to be satisfied.

According to the agile methodology, if we want to create a well-defined user story, it must answer several questions. They basically approach the user story from the point of view of the user, the desired functionality, and the added value. Along these lines, the following questions must be answered when defining a user story:

Who:

  • Who will be the affected user or interested party?
  • Who benefits from the function described in the user story?

What kind of:

  • What role or personality does the user represent?
  • What problem or need does the user story aim to solve?
  • What operations or tasks can the user perform in the system?
  • What functions should the product have?

Why:

  • Why is this feature important or necessary?
  • Why does the user need this feature?
  • What value does this feature provide to the user?

Dependence:

  • Is there a dependency on another function, system, or other external factor?
  • Which dependencies need to be addressed in order to effectively implement this user story?

Limitations and assumptions:

  • Are there any constraints (such as legal compliance or product limitations) that need to be taken into account?
  • Is there an assumption that confirms the need for a user story, but needs validation or clarification?

Strategy:

  • How does the user story contribute to the achievement of project goals or strategic objectives?

Once these questions have been successfully answered, the user story is ready to enter the team’s backlog. However, in order for its development to begin, we also need to determine when the given user story to be finished can be considered as completed, and according to which criteria we accept it.

To do this, three concepts used in agile operations must be clarified and later defined:

  • Definition of Ready (DoR): The “Definition of Ready” determines when a user story can be considered prepared or suitable for inclusion in a sprint or development. The DoR contains the necessary prerequisites that must be met before a user story can enter the sprint. These can be, for example, the availability of the necessary information, the appropriate size and segmentation of the user story, or its ready-to-estimate status.
  • Acceptance Criteria (AC): “Acceptance Criteria” are the conditions and expectations that the user story must meet in order to be accepted during development. The acceptance criteria describe in detail the goals and functions of the user story and how it will be fulfilled. The acceptance criteria help the team and the client to clearly understand the expectations and requirements of the execution of the user story.
  • Definition of Done (DoD): The “Definition of Done” defines the criteria that a user story must meet in order to be considered completely done. The DoD includes the development, testing, documentation, and other activities required to execute and accept the user story. These criteria ensure that the user story is truly complete and functional before it is accepted by the end users or client.

In each case, the acceptance criteria must be formulated in relation to the specific story, and the Definition of Ready and Definition of Done are more general expectations at the team level, which are typically uniform for all stories delivered by the team.

The connection between these concepts is that a user story can only be considered fully completed and acceptable if it meets the expectations of the Definition of Done and fulfills the acceptance criteria.

For this, however, the conditions of the Definition of Ready must first be met, so that the user story is properly prepared for development and testing. The joint application of these concepts helps to ensure that the development process is transparent, and that the team can work efficiently on the implementation of user stories in each sprint.

Agile user story illustration

Since the duration of each sprint is usually two to three weeks, the goal is to determine the size and scope of a user story in such a way that it can be delivered within one or at most two sprints. If a given story is too large to be implemented within a foreseeable time (from an agile point of view), i.e. it does not meet the requirements of the DoR and thus cannot be included in the sprint, then it is necessary to break up the given user story.

In many cases this is not an easy task, but the following aspects can help us:

  • Identifying the main functions or tasks: First, the user story must be examined, and then the main functions or tasks have to be defined, with the implementation of which the user story can be fulfilled. These can be the basic steps or activities required to achieve the goals described by the user.
  • Functional separation: Major functions or tasks should be broken down into smaller, self-contained parts that can be implemented and tested independently. It is important that even the smaller parts represent some value or functionality for the user.
  • Use of vertical slices: The individual parts must be designed in such a way that the functions are sliced vertically, that is, each part contains a complete user operation or business logic. This allows each part to function and be usable independently, even if we only implement a portion of the full functionality.
  • Prioritization: The priority of the parts of the user stories must also be taken into account, so that the most important parts with the greatest business value are implemented first. This allows the team to develop the most important features first, and if necessary, expand them with additional parts or features in later iterations.
  • Ensuring testability: Due to the agile methodology, all parts should be designed in such a way that they are easy to test, and running the tests helps to confirm the functionality and quality. This may include defining acceptance criteria and creating test cases for each part.
  • Continuous communication and feedback: It is important that the team constantly communicates and cooperates during the definition and the segmentation of user stories. Open communication and feedback between team members can help to implement individual parts more efficiently and to optimize the path to achieving the goal.

The breaking up of user stories can be refined based on continuous activity and the team’s subsequent experiences. During execution, the team learns which parts should be broken down into user stories in order to create the greatest possible value for users and customers.

Benefits provided by agile user stories

The importance of creating and applying the agile user stories presented in the article is outstanding during agile software development. There are significant benefits to an organization if its teams are able to produce and deliver the right stories. By having teams clearly understand and embrace user needs and expectations, the product or service can deliver functionality that represents real business value. This increases client experience and satisfaction and improves product acceptance and success in the marketplace.

In addition, the use of agile user stories promotes more effective communication and cooperation between teams. Clear tasks and expectations allow teams to organize, plan and prioritize more easily. This increases productivity and efficiency and reduces the cost of unnecessary resources and time.

At the same time, if the principles and definitions stated above are not respected or not applied properly, agility can be damaged. If the teams do not have an adequate level of knowledge about the creation and application of user stories, or if they do not follow the appropriate methodological principles, then there may be misunderstandings, conflicts, and unnecessary delays in the development process. This can negatively affect product quality and competitiveness and increase project risk and cost.

Summary of the agile user story

Therefore, the use of agile user stories is indispensable for the success of agile software development. These user stories not only help teams understand and satisfy user needs, but also support transparent communication and effective collaboration.

The essence and benefits of agility can only be fully exploited if teams are able to properly apply and adhere to the principles and definitions for creating agile user stories.

To learn more about agile project management, follow MINDSPIRE’s social media profiles! In the coming months, we will publish several articles on the topic, from the presentation of agile ceremonies to agile planning and organizational challenges posed by agility.

If you need support in the design and operation of agile project management, please feel free to contact us. Our employees have many years of experience in agile operations. In recent years, they have successfully participated in the agile transformation of traditional project organizations, as well as in the delivery of agile projects.

Gergely Gyenes

Author

Gergely Gyenes

Agile project management supervisor

Gergely has more than 20 years of experience in the field of retail loans.
He is equally experienced in planning business and IT processes, as well as in project management, test coordination and data analysis.
He is committed to teamwork, constantly supports and encourages his colleagues to achieve the best possible performance.
In the past four years, he worked as an agile product owner on several residential loan projects, and also participated in the agile transformation of organizations and projects.

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