Persona development, user interviews and contextual inquiry are all important tools to help you understand users' wants, needs and the context in which they will be using your product, but they're only as useful as the user stories they inform. 

User stories are the first step in converting the ideas of Discovery into functionality, and doing them well is critical to the success of your product. In this post I'll walk you step-by-step through our approach to developing them, and provide an example of what they might look like for a well-known social media application.

Process

The process is pretty straightforward:

  1.  Define all of the actors in the system. An actor is simply any unique type of user in a system.
  2. Write a set of stories for each actor following this format: "As a <role>, I can/want <goal/desire>." Optionally, you can add a "so that <benefit>."

Since most people are familiar with it, we'll use Facebook to illustrate the concepts of stories and actors.

Actors

  • Consumer user: An individual who signs up for personal use.
  • Business user: A business user that signs up for promotional purpose.
  • Moderator: A Facebook employee who has customer service access to the system.
  • Administrator: A Facebook employee who has administrator access to the business side of Facebook.

These are just a few hypothetical examples of the actors in the Facebook ecosystem. Notice that we address external users of the Facebook platform as well as internal employees, and you should, too.

For a robust platform such as Facebook, there would be thousands of stories covering all of the system's functionality. Here are a few examples of what they might look like:

User Stories

Consumer User

  1. As a Consumer User, I can sign up for a Facebook account with my email address and password
  2. As a Consumer User, I can submit a friend request to people I know so that I can keep in touch with them.
  3. As a Consumer User, I can accept or reject friend requests that other users send to me.
  4. As a Consumer User, I can send a private message to a person with whom I am "friends."

Business User

  1. As a Business User, I can enter information on my business page so that potential customers can learn about what my business does.
  2. As a Business User, I can enter my address that will show up on a map so that people can locate our business.

Moderator User

  1. As a Moderator, I can delete a consumer Facebook page for violating Facebook's policies.
  2. As a Moderator, I can remove inappropriate material from Facebook.
  3. As a Moderator, I can approve or decline a new Facebook game submitted to the Facebook platform.

Administrator User

  1. As an Administrator, I can see how many consumer users are on the Facebook platform.
  2. As an Administrator, I can run a report on a specified date range so that I can see how much money Facebook has made from all game publishers.

Tips for Creating User Stories

  1. It is critical to define all of the unique actors in a system.
  2. There may be hundreds of unique actors in a system.
  3. In most cases, stories should be just one line in length.
  4. They should never be paragraphs or drawn-out scenarios. If you see this happening, try to break the paragraph into a series of stories.
  5. Once you have all of your stories well defined, you have a granular idea of what each user can do in the system you are building in simple, non-technical language. This is a huge part of understanding and articulating your product's desired functionality.

In addition to creating user stories, it's a good practice to create use cases. A use case is a series of steps that a user takes when interacting with a system to achieve a desired goal (which could be one or more stories). In contrast to user stories, a use case contains multiple steps along a path to completion. This is particularly helpful when evaluating initial screen designs. We'll share more on use cases later, but in the meantime, you can visit Usability.gov's "how-to" on creating use cases

To learn more about how Dialexa converts ideas into functionality, including our approach to the new product development process for software, click the image below.

Get Farther Faster with a free copy of our Guide to New Product Development Process for Software
Photo credit: "User Stories Analysis" by Gary Barber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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