The Power Of A Great User Story

For anyone that personally knows me, they will know that I am absolutely obsessed with getting User Stories right!

On the face of it, it may seem impossible to deliver part of a business process from one single sentence, but user stories are one of the best tools you can use, right from your initial engagement through to post go-live support as long as each part adds value.

What is a User Story?

User stories can help us to define a requirement for a business user or process that needs to be included within a project or product to ensure success. Generally speaking, user stories follow the following format:

As a [persona], I want to [achieve], so that I can [action].

That is all, one seemingly simple statement. Some may feel that writing user stories are a waste of time in an agile project, particularly as an agile project is supposed to deliver technical outputs quickly, however, user stories can actually speed up the turnaround time of the solution, providing that we pay particular and collaborative attention to it’s construction.

The Construction

Let’s take a look at what we want to achieve from each part of the User Story and how we can add value. As I am a Power Platform and Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement consulting manager, I’ll be using an example from Dynamics 365 Customer Service.

As a [persona],…

It would be easy to write “As a user…” here and be done, but this doesn’t tell us anything except that this isn’t an automated process.

Particularly in the Power Platform and Dynamics 365 space, the functionality and security model can span multiple applications, so perhaps we can describe the user and the way that they’re accessing the product or feature.

As a Customer Service Representative accessing the standard Customer Service Hub application,

From the above, we can understand that:

  • The user definitely needs a Dynamics 365 Customer Service license if existing licenses do not allow access.
  • The user is likely to use the standard Security Role provided due to the persona’s role.
  • The user is not expecting a tailored sitemap experience, as they will access the application through existing means.
  • The experience is triggered by end user behaviour rather than automated processes, until we discover more about the rest of the story.

I want to [achieve],…

We now want to ensure that we describe the Customer Service Representative’s objective in this part of the user story, so that we can start to understand our scope and design our solution.

As a Customer Service Representative accessing the standard Customer Service Hub application, I want to see all of my priority ‘1 – Blocker’ Cases in a separate list sorted by oldest to newest creation date,…

To add to our previous understanding, we now know:

  • The user has a focus on Cases that need the highest amount of attention, and these should be categorised by priority. Right now we don’t know the full list of priorities, but we can add that as a known unknown in our design.
  • The user needs a new view for just the Cases categorised by this priority, and the out-of-the-box priorities are High, Medium, Low. It seems like we need to carry out Column and List configuration in Dataverse here.
  • The List that we configure needs to include the Created On date, and needs a sorting on this Column too.

So that I can [action].

The primary purpose of this part of the user story is to justify the action through behaviour. Some consider this part of the user story optional, however I like to ensure it’s included in every user story as it can significantly change the estimate required to deliver.

This part of the user story doesn’t just have design benefits, but it can also help us prioritise the user story against other user stories in the backlog when we are working in iterations or sprints.

As a Customer Service Representative accessing the standard Customer Service Hub application, I want to see all of my priority ‘1 – Blocker’ Cases in a separate list sorted by oldest to newest creation date, so that I can ensure that we do our best to meet our 1 day ‘solution or workaround’ Service Level Agreement (SLA) for blocked customers.

We now know why this design is so important, and we can deduce the following:

  • The organisation makes promises within their agreements with customers to ensure that business processes aren’t blocked for more than one day, and this needs to be a core emphasise within the design.
  • We can ask if we can further improve the design by introducing system triggered Service Level Agreement functionality.
  • Most importantly, another business initialism has been cleared up, by clarifying why the customer keeps writing SLA all over their documents!

Isn’t This Too Much Detail?

Not at all. It’s unlikely that we will every get to this level of detail within one round of workshops, however, through refinement during iterations or sprints, this can tell us almost exactly how we need to build a feature. It will also help us more accurately estimate our delivery and provide a higher chance of passing tests after deployment.

One phrase I frequently hear is ‘we don’t need to worry, it’s just out of the box functionality’, but from one sentence regarding standard functionality, we have been able to arrive at 10 conclusions with definitive design that definitely carry an associated effort.

I am sure others reading this will find additional conclusions too, and this is the great thing about user stories – multiple perspectives can help to narrow down exactly what the client is asking for, and ultimately lead to a higher quality delivery.

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