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User Stories Should Be *Valuable*

by Kelly Waters, 25 March 2008 | Agile User Stories

Agile User Stories Should Be ValuableI recently quoted the ‘Invest’ acronym as a way to remember and assess what makes a good User Story.

The *V* in ‘Invest’ stands for *Valuable*.

It is often said by people in the agile community that User Stories should be of value to the user.

Whilst that is mostly true, some User Stories are not of value to the user, but rather of value to the customer or owner of the system.

Therefore it is more accurate to say that, “User Stories should be of value to the user, or owner, of the solution”.

A good example of this is advertising space on a public web site. Ads can be of value to the user, if they are highly relevant and positioned in a place sensitive to the user experience. For example on Google. On the other hand, very often the ads on a web site are of little value to the user and interfere with content, creating a poor user experience. Of course I would never advocate creating a poor user experience, but regardless of the debate about value to the user, they are certainly of value to the owner of the solution.

User Stories should be focused on features – not tasks. And written in business language. Doing so will enable business people to understand and prioritise the User Stories.

For example, a User Story to ‘comply with OWASP security standards’ should be written something like this: ‘As a user, I want my data to be secure, so I can use the system without my personal information being misused’.

This brings me to the question of non-functional User Stories that in effect span all other User Stories. For example the above story about security, or maybe a user story about the solution’s performance. These can be captured as User Stories to ensure the requirement is not lost. But actually these requirements are possibly better served by writing a series of standard test cases to be applied to all User Stories.

So let’s take a look at my recent Example of a User Story in terms of being Valuable to the user or owner of the solution? An agile consultant saw this example and said it was not a good example because logging in to the solution is of no value to the user.

But in this case I disagree.

It is of value to the user, because only by logging in can they gain access to features and content that are available to subscribers only. And it’s also of value to the owner, as it prevents people from accessing premium areas of the solution unless they have paid to subscribe.

Kelly.

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7 Responses to “User Stories Should Be *Valuable*”

  1. Robert Dempsey says:

    Thanks for another great post Kelly. Our approach to non-functional User Stories, such as the application interacting with web services, is to have the system itself as a user role. An example of this is: “As the System I want to pull images from Flickr in order to show them in a User’s profile.”

  2. Kelly Waters says:

    Hi Robert

    Many thanks for your comment, your feedback is much appreciated!

    I’m not sure the example you give is really a non-functional requirement?

    I think it’s actually a feature and you could think about re-wording it from a user’s perspective?

    Why would your users want you to display images from FlickR?

    I don’t know much about the feature so I can’t really write a good example for you. But I guess it would be something along the lines of: As a user, I want to see images from FlickR on my profile, so I can…

    Regards
    Kelly.

  3. Rolf says:

    Hi Kelly,
    in your Example of a User Story I’d not say it is valuable for the user to gain access to features, that is just means to an end.
    However, I totally agree with your second point of view,-
    For PoV 1 I like to suggest: the user story is valuable to the user, because his data (comments and the like)will be protected from, say, unauthorized change.
    Therefor: ‘As a user, I want to authenticate myself in order to protect my data from unauthorized access.’
    How’s that?
    Cheers,
    Rolf

  4. Robert Dempsey says:

    Kelly,

    Thanks for the feedback. I think I understand where you are going. Essentially, we should write the requirement completely from the user perspective rather than describing background (i.e. system) behavior in terms of a “system” user. That helps a lot. Thanks.

    - Robert

  5. Sherry says:

    Hi Kelly,
    Do you have any suggestions on how best to handle these types of non-functional requirements? We currently have them as a separate user/design story.

    Suggested typing; Ability to collapse information not required by the user (at user level); Evaluate available conventions to determine which we want to use for development of this system; Make lists easier to read by including grey/white row highlights, etc.; Always use pop-up calendars when a date is needed; Field type validation (numbers, alpha, etc.)

    Thanks!
    Sherry

  6. Kelly Waters says:

    Hi Sherry

    Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment – busy times!

    First of all, I would say that most of your examples are not non-functional stories, they are absolutely functional and can therefore be included on the relevant stories.

    The only exception I think is the one about evaluating conventions. I have to admit that early on in a project, there are a lot of general development things to get done such as setting up environments etc. I just accept this in the first Sprint or so, and don’t try to twist them into stories artificially. However I do expect the stories to be valuable to the user once the project gets into its step and we’re iterating through functionality.

    Havng said that, I think I see what you’re getting at. I think you’re asking about functions that span multiple features, rather than non-functional requirements. I agree with you that these are a little awkward. Ideally each feature would still be incorporated on all user stories they are applicable for. You may also have a set of standard tests that are checked for all user stories, and features such as these could be included there.

    Hope this helps,

    Kelly.

  7. hmoeller says:

    I’ve bookmarked this article set a long time ago and finally came back to it now. It’s great, so thanks a lot.

    Concerning those non-functional requirements, I second the idea of creating general tests for each story. And the place-to-go for these requirements is, IMHO, the Definition of Done which should be unique for all user stories.

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