Agile User Stories Tip: Always Include a Role Name

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One of the most popular formats for writing agile user stories follows this template:

As a [role], I want to [feature] so that [goal]

Many organizations translate this into a spreadsheet where each column represents a different field the story writer can fill in:

I have used this template on almost every agile project I have participated in.  For the most part, it works very well. It typically provides a great launch point for additional discussions before it makes it into a sprint.

One of the most common mistakes I see when introducing the template (and agile stories in general) to a new team is a tendency to define every role as just a generic “user”. For example, I’ve seen user stories as generic as:

“As a user, I want to upload photos to a library so that I can use them on a post”

Although its syntactically correct, it is vital that we define a role and not a “seat” on the system. A more valuable user story would look like this:

“As a user designer content author, I want to upload photos to a library so that I can use them on a post”

Notice how this story now has a better context of who will be using the feature and how. This could provide valuable insight into the intended audience and how best to implement the feature — a designer may imply more advanced features while a content author would use the image as is.

Always avoid the generic “user” role in your user stories.

Hope this helps.

2 Comments

  1. Agile Scout says:

    Great tip here. I too agree that adding these small details can greatly increase the value of the stories that are written out.

    Even the smallest bits of information can help answer questions that developers may have. User and test driven design is about understanding (as many as you can) the different users of a system

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