Ben Holliday

Tell the user story

In agile we talk a lot about user stories but we don’t spend enough time telling the stories of our users.

User stories are commonly known as the way we prioritise and deliver work in agile teams.

How we use ‘stories’ determines if user-centred design is really a part of our agile delivery. They’re a good indicator of whether we’re thinking about user needs and what it would really be like to use the product or service we’re building.

I’ve come to the conclusion that whenever I’ve worked in agile teams we haven’t really told the story of our users.

At best we’ve used individual stories to prioritise features to help us meet user needs. At worst we’ve lost sight of the real user story.

For the love of story telling

I really like the approach to user stories outlined by Jeff Patton in his book User Story Mapping.

Jeff’s approach is story telling. This is based on how you use stories rather than what’s written on each user story card:

Stories in agile development get their name from how they should be used, not what you write down.

The important thing is how we tell the user story.

The point is stories have a start and end. They’re a narrative. They eventually reach a conclusion or an outcome. Each individual ‘story’ should be part of this narrative.

Make sure you can tell the story of how users will use your product or service. Tell the story of what they will need to do at every step of this journey.

Further reading

Sophie Freiermuth ran a workshop on user story mapping last month at NUX Camp Leeds. You can view the slide deck.

User story mapping is not unlike user journey mapping. Sometimes this is known as customer journey mapping.

I would recommend Mental Models by Indi Young. This is another way to map user journeys using what people are thinking, feeling and doing.

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.