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User stories should be implementation free

By Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting

In my ebook From Agile to Agile I quoted from a post on Mark Levison’s ScrumMaster Tales:

As a first time book buyer I want to find the perfect mystery novel by reading staff reviews so I won’t waste my money reading bad books

Via email, Ed responded:

I would disagree that the user story you cited in your e-book is implementation free; you are assuming that reading staff reviews would reduce the amount of money reading bad books.

Ed wonders: did the user story begin with a problem or was it reverse-engineered from a solution the developers wanted to build. That is, were customers asking for staff recommendations? Or did the product team decide staff recommendations were cool and then wrote the user story from that premise?

And is the goal to save money? Or save time? I know I don’t want to waste my time reading bad books, an issue more important to me than money. But frankly, I’m more inclined to check the reader reviews on Amazon than rely on staff picks. Who are these staff people? Do they like the kinds of books I like?

This level of detail in user stories is an issue that concerns most agile product teams today.

I ran a series a few years back called “Req or Spec?” I’d post a user story and asked readers to comment. Some user stories were clearly implementations; others were too vague to respond to. Happily some were “just right.”

My recommendation is to write your first user stories with a product management peer or two and then discuss the level of detail. Is the story referring to one idea or more? Does the story contain implementation? Is the story specific enough for a developer to know what to design and build? Once you and your colleagues think you’ve got it nailed, have a discussion with your product team. See where they agree and disagree. You most often find they want more detail but don’t let them pull you into designing an implementation.

Do you have some to share? What are your “best” user stories and why? Post them in the comments section below.

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About the author

Steve Johnson is a widely recognized speaker and story teller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under 10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.