Dirt road — San bruno mountain, CA

Why Short User Stories Are A Competitive Advantage

Today’s product teams manage to radically reduce their development cycle times because of their habit of continuous integration & continuous deployment.

I recently read an article by Stefan Roock about a powerful UX framework — called “Dimensional Planning” — cutting feature iterations or product releases into short user stories.

What is a User Story?

A user story is a requirement described by the user of an application. It is defined on an abstraction level where the whole cross-functional team is able to understand and therefore provide different angles to build a sustainable & efficient solution.
Alternative: In order to (receive benefit) as a (role), I want (goal/desire).

Product development teams (startups / cross-functional teams) can use short user stories as a competitive advantage because they can

  • release earlier & often
  • gain market feedback
  • iterate based on what they are learning
  • raise customer expectations in terms of quality & response times

So how does it work?

The key to short user stories is to create them on different development increments and qualities of usage.

The street metaphor works well as example to describe four different development increments:

  • Dirt road: This level of implementation is very basic and provides bare minimal functionality. You can go from A to B and it’s good enough to get feedback.
  • Cobblestone road: This level is more comfortable than the dirt road implementation, but still far from being perfect.
  • Asphalted road: This level is a sober implementation. A lot of actions are automated and less erroneous. It’s close to feeling great using it.
  • Highway: This level is a full implementation (and going the extra mile). It provides the biggest comfort in terms of efficiency and usability.

This framework applied to the releases of a game for example, means that the first version works with text in- & output only. The upcoming iterations will have improvements on graphics, interactions & sound.

Toledo Chess 1. A text based chess program written in C language.— nanochess.org

Asking yourself the question …

“Would this version of the product deliver more value to the customer than the one that’s currently live?”

… helps a lot to decide if something is ready to ship. In most cases it does deliver more value, which again means earlier feedback, earlier learning and therefore earlier improvement.

Inspired by the lean approach, we intuitively use this technique creating Blossom since a while and it works brilliant.


If you found this post helpful you might want to follow me on twitter where I tweet about UX, Design & Product Management.

Also make sure to check out Blossom, a modern Agile/Lean Project Management Tool I’m currently working on ☺