The Top Reasons High-Performing Teams Leverage User Stories
They're not just for software teams - they're for everyone!
Want a team that communicates better? Want to put customers (internal or external) more at the center of what your team does? Are you unfamiliar with User Stories (or, if you do know about them, do you think they’re just for software teams)? If so, this piece is for you…
What are User Stories?
User stories are concise descriptions of value told from the perspective of the person who desires that value (usually an end user or customer). Taken as a whole, a ‘backlog’ of these stories is a sequenced description of the things a team will produce to satisfy its customers.
Who are your customers? If you work on a People Team, your customers are the rest of the organization. You might even consider the spouses and children of your staff as customers when it comes to topics like benefits or retreats.
User Stories are designed to capture the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘why’ of a feature in a way that's easy to digest. For example, a software-focused User Story might look like this…
"As a call-center operator, I need to be able to log in with my email and password so that I can access my account securely."
These Stories are the building blocks for planning, designing, and experimenting with new services, products or software features. They keep the focus on the end user's needs and goals, ensuring that the final product is not only robust but also user-friendly and aligned with what the customer actually wants.
Why leverage User Stories?
If you’re not leveraging User Stories for your team, here are some great reasons to try them out…
Improved communication and collaboration: It can often take a bit of back and forth to craft a well-conceived Story. This process is great for helping a team to work out what it is they are really trying to achieve (and why) right from the outset. This helps avoid conflict or confusion down the line.
Customer-centricity: High performing teams are, by definition, those that serve their customers exceptionally well. Employing User Stories means being more deliberate about verifying that the customer’s needs are met with every piece of delivery.
Easier prioritization: Once you have well crafted User Stories, your team will be able to prioritize their workload more easily. This fact comes from having to be explicit about the ‘why’ of each Story. With that work done, all of the little ‘whys’ can do battle to create more coherent choices around priority.
Make work visible: Teams who can easily visualize their work are much likely to stay aligned and focused as they work through their backlog. Such visualization also makes it far easier to spot when there is too much ‘work-in-progress’ (WIP). The ability to minimize WIP successfully is a fundamental quality of high performing teams.
Validation: Working with User Stories allows the team to articulate to end-users what they were trying to achieve and allows those users to validate whether the team has been successful. Feedback then naturally becomes more structured around the goals of the work.
How do you write an effective User Story?
The most common format for a User Story is composed of three parts: the role, the output, and the benefit. It’s essentially a Mad Lib…
As a [type of person], I want [a thing] so that [benefit/value].
Let's break down each part…
Role - “As a [type of person]”: This identifies the user or the role for whom the feature is being developed. This part provides context about who will be using the feature. Make sure that this is as specific as possible so that the team has a clear mental picture of who’s going to be interacting with the thing they’re building. For example, “As a customer” isn’t as helpful as “As a manager of a call-center team”.
Output - “I want [a thing]”: This describes the specific item or functionality that the user is seeking. It should be clear, concise, and focused on a single step or goal.
Benefit - “so that [benefit/value]”: This explains the benefit or value that the person will gain from the piece of work. It clarifies why they want the specified output and what problem or need it addresses. It is fundamental to helping the team evaluate the impact of each piece of work as well as its relative priority.
Since many folks in our community are in People Operations, we wanted to mention some example user stories that you might create or encounter in that domain.
Let’s take the topic of onboarding. What kind of User Stories might you write if you wanted to have high-quality, inclusive onboarding?
As a [new joiner early in my career], I want [a clear checklist of things I need to do as part of my onboarding] so that [I don’t unknowingly miss something critical and can focus on my new role].
As a [new joiner with a chronic health condition], I want [quick access to the benefits portal and my insurance information] so that [I can ensure continuity of care and receive my medications on time].
As a [new joiner in a manager role], I want [access to a single source of key manager information] so that [I can quickly answer any questions I have, self-service].
As a [new joiner who has emigrated to be here], I want [an onboarding buddy from this location] so that [I have a high-touch and supportive experience as I adjust to this significant life change].
Will you be experimenting with User Stories?
We encourage you to give them a try. See if you can externalize some of your logic as you do it. The exercise in itself can be a good challenge to shake up your thinking.
If you’d like more methods from Product Management and Software Development relating to your work in People Ops / L&D, hit that subscribe button below.