Problem-centric user stories

This post is part of 101 ideas for agile teams.

don’t limit your ideas with unnecessary constraints

Context

Your team uses the well known 
As a <role>, I want <goal/desire> so that <benefit>
template for writing user stories.

Your product owner (or requirements engineer) writes the want part usually in the form of an action. This action-centric approach limits the solution space for your team.

Example

“As a human resource person I want to search for employees, whose birthday is today so that I can bring them a present.”

The problem lies within “search for employee, whose birthday is today.” That is already a solution approach.

Why not write it as “let me notify about employees, whose birthday is today”? A probably better solution, but still a solution is described.

The person writing the user story already chose a high level solution.

Action

Write user stories that describe the problem or goal and let the team figure out solution variants during implementation.

Replace high level solutions in your user stories with problem or goal descriptions.

A good requirement or user story describes the problem, not a solution.

“As a human resource person I want to know the names of all our employees, whose birthday is today so that I can bring them a present.”

This user story leaves it to the team, how this goal is met (search, notification, automatic present delivery, …)

If you have trouble to find a problem/goal description, start with the benefit (make employees happy with a present on their birthday) and look at what is hindering you to achieving it (I don’t know who has a birthday today).

What you gain

Solutions that better meet the real needs of the users. All team members take part in the exploration of the whole solution space and are not framed from the start to a high level solution picked by a single person.

How to strengthen

Reflect with your team about how the user stories in your product backlog are currently written.

Are the user stories/backlog items problem or solution descriptions?

Are the described problems the root causes or just symptoms?

Risks

You may learn that you have built the wrong product. React now.

Your Product Owner feels like she is losing control and does not like it. Remind her that she is part of the team and can help find the best solution together with the team, but not in the user story text.

There is not enough time to prepare or refine the user stories prior to Sprint planning. Reserve more time for product backlog refinement during the Sprints.


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More ideas at 101 ideas for agile teams

Many thanks to bbv Software Services for making this blog post possible.