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Do it right or not at all

Written by Michael Dijkstra on 14 Dec 2020

I hurried as quickly as I could. It was my final year chemistry test and I had to make sure I calculated the correct concentration or I would fail. As I hurried, I added too much of one chemical into the beaker. I knew as the last drop hit the beaker the result was going to be wrong but I continued anyway. It took 10 more minutes to finish the experiment and as predicted, the results were useless. I knew right there and then that I had to do it right or not at all.

The same applies for user stories. If you merely put something down because you have to, they become useless. You can’t use it, your team can’t use it and the whole point of doing it in the first place is lost.

The purpose of a user story is to help communicate the goal the user is trying to achieve.

User story format

The correct format for a user story is:

In order to [achieve a benefit]
As a [role]
I want [to perform an action]

A bad user story

To understand what makes a good user story, let’s first look at a bad user story:

In order to receive your newsletter
As a user
I want to subscribe to your newsletter.

Let’s break it down and see what’s wrong.

Firstly, describing the role as “a user” doesn’t add any value to the conversation. You have an opportunity to provide extra context by specifying a role such as visitor, admin or logged in user.

Secondly, you know a user story smells when you find you are repeating yourself. In this example, the goal of the user is also described as what they want to do.

When you think about it, does the visitor really want to subscribe to your newsletter or is there something more valuable?

A good user story

In this situation, a good user story would be:

In order to never miss out on a special offer
As a visitor
I want to subscribe to the newsletter.

This user story now describes what the value for the user is, their role and you know what action they want to perform to achieve their goal.

Benefits of a good user story

By spending a moment figuring out what the user really wants, you’ve also penned your headline copy, “Never miss out on a special offer”, and your call to action, “Subscribe”.

The power of a good user story doesn’t stop there. You can also use your user story to drive the validation of your feature.

Using what you’ve already done you can say:

We believe visitors never want to miss out on a special offer

This will be validated when 20/200 visitors subscribe

If you’re having trouble making sense of one of your user stories, let us know on Twitter.

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