Unheralded Alternatives to User Stories

The Scrum guide does not mention User Stories. Still, all the Scrum teams I worked with use them. Many Scrum teams apply User Stories to a fault: User Stories may not be the right tool for the job.

Maarten Dalmijn
Nov 20, 2018 · 6 min read

According to the Scrum guide, few attributes are mandatory for Product Backlog items:

Product Backlog items have the attributes of a description, order, estimate, and value. Product Backlog items often include test descriptions that will prove its completeness when “Done”.

As you can see, User Stories are not mentioned anywhere. They are also not mentioned in the rest of the Scrum guide. Why are User Stories so popular if Scrum teams are under no obligation to use them?

There are three reasons for User Stories being so popular:

  1. User Stories are easy to understand and to get started with. A lot of information is available on User Stories. With a quick search you can find documentation, books and courses to learn more about User Stories.
  2. User Stories are versatile. You can use them for discovery. You can use them for delivery. It is easy to split User Stories up in smaller ones. It is hard to go wrong, when you choose to write a User Story.
  3. People are unfamiliar with alternatives and when to best use them. It is easy to do what you did before.

For the last reason, I am writing this article. I want to help spread knowledge about alternatives to User Stories. It pays off to know the right time to use each template for your Product Backlog items and you will get a better result by doing so.

I will discuss 5 alternatives to User Stories together with their pro’s and con’s.

Initiative: Super-Epic for grouping Epics together

Initiatives allow teams to work together on functionality that spans across multiple teams. Let’s say you want to deliver a functionality that requires collaboration by four different teams. You start by creating an initiative that is shared by the four teams. It is then up to the teams to split their work up in one or more Epics. These Epics will then need to be refined and split up further.

Pros:

Cons:

Further reading:

Job Stories: what is the context and causality of your feature?

Job stories are rooted in jobs-to-be done and have the following template:

When < situation>, I want < motivation > so that < expected outcome>

Pros:

Cons:

Further reading:

Problem Stories: what is the problem you are trying to solve and how do you intend to solve it?

A Problem Story has the following template:

In order to < solve problem >, we will <build solution >

The solution is added by the team after discussing the issue at refinement.

Pros:

Cons:

Further reading:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/new-way-writing-user-stories-brought-me-back-realising-adrian-kerry

Improvement Stories: what is the current situation and the desired situation you want to have?

An Improvement Story has the following template:

We have<current situation>, we want to have <desired situation>

Pros:

Cons:

Further reading:

Feature-Driven Development features: great for picking up technical work

FDD features have the following format:

<action> the <result><by|for|of|to|in><object>

This may sound quite cryptic, so here are some concrete examples:

This template works great for technical tasks, where what you need to do is far removed from users.

Pros:

Cons:

Further reading:

Different backlog item types serve a different purpose: pick the right one for your situation

It is easy to keep on using User Stories and Epics. It is safe to do, as you have done many times before. However, there are clear situations where it may pay off to try something new. Each backlog item type serves a specific purpose and picking the right one makes your life easier.

Building something big that requires frequent collaboration between multiple teams? An initiative will help start the discussion and provides a good platform for breaking down work in multiple Epics.

Building a new product and busy with discovery? Job stories are better suited than User Stories for figuring out how to make the lives of your users better.

Have a list of small improvements that build upon something you’ve released? Improvement Stories will save you a lot of time and easier to understand than User Stories.

Have a clear problem you need to solve that affects multiple users or the type of user does not really matter? Try a problem story. More signal and less noise.

Busy writing a user story that feels silly and convoluted because it is far removed from the end users? Use the Feature-Driven Development Feature template.

HackerNoon.com

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Thanks to Martin Griffin

Maarten Dalmijn

Written by

Product Owner and Agile enthusiast. https://www.linkedin.com/in/maarten-dalmijn/

HackerNoon.com

how hackers start their afternoons.

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