How to write agile user stories: 7 guidelines

Beyond the basics: how to provide agile user stories more definition and structure to ensure there is a shared understanding of the intent and underlying requirements

Fundamentally, agile user stories are short, simple tools to document a single action or intention desired by the targeted user to achieve a goal. The simplest user stories have a format, “As a user type or role, I want to action or intent so that reason or benefit” that answers at least three simple questions on who, what, and why the story is in the backlog queue.

As teams mature and organizations use agile across multiple teams and initiatives, agile user stories often take on a lot more definition and structure to ensure there is a shared understanding of the intent and underlying requirements.

Getting started with writing agile user stories

There are plenty of resources to help new product owners, business analysts, scrum masters, and technical leads to understand the basics of writing user stories. Some places to start include articles from AtlassianFreeCodeCamp, Agile Modeling, and these 200 user story examples. One of the more complete writeups is in Alexander Cowan’s best agile user story. There are books on story writing, including User Story Mapping by Jeff Paton and Peter Economy and User Stories Applied by Mike Cohn. You can also take courses on story writing from UdemyLearning Tree, VersionOne, and Lynda.

One fundamental principle first shared by Bill Wake is to invest in good stories. Invest stands for “independent, negotiable, valuable, estimable, small, and testable,” which make a good checklist for agile story writers. “An agile leader’s guide to writing user stories” is one article that explains how to apply invest principles.

The basics are relatively easy, yet I often hear and witness disconnects among stakeholders, product owners, developers, and testers around the quality of the requirements or whether a story is truly done. There are sometimes conflicting viewpoints on the level of detail required, where to fit in technical requirements, and what artifacts should be created with user stories.

To continue reading this article register now