What Are User Stories?

August 26, 2012

User stories are a simple description of your website experience written from the perspective of one of your users. You write concise functionality ideas usually in the form of: “A <type of user> can <specific goal>.”

Some examples might help explain the concept better. Say you’re developing a web application for doctors which helps them with scheduling appointments. Some examples of user stories might be:

  • An admin can add, remove, or edit appointments
  • A patient can receive various reminders about appointments
  • A patient can check their appointments

Now the next step after writing user stories is to consolidate, destroy, or expand upon them. Since our example is quick and dirty, let's just keep these three stories as-is and move on. For each user story, constraints can also be written. Constraints are details that help explain the scope of each story.

I’ll write some constraints for our stories above:

  • An admin can add, remove, or edit appointments
  • Constraint 1: when appointments are removed or edited, the patient should be notified via email

A patient can receive various reminders about appointments

  • Constraint 1: patients can receive a text message and/or email reminders
  • Constraint 2: patients can receive reminders 1 week in advance by default but admins can modify the timing

A patient can check their appointments

  • Constraint 1: patients should be able to check their appointments on any internet enabled device

Isn’t it interesting how much detail and clarification was missing from our three original stories? Now imagine using this process for every single feature and functionality idea you have for your website? Sure it might take some time, but once you’re done you’ll have a well thought out and specific list to hand your development team. Not only that, but you can now discuss the stories with the developers in plain english since they were written with no technical jargon. This is an important idea to keep in mind when you’re creating a large and complex website on the internet (whether it’s an eCommerce store or custom web application software). A rock solid system to organize these details in an easy-to-read way is a must.

I could go on for a while about user stories, but we’ll save that for a future blog post.

Here at 320ny, we utilize a user story approach for all of our large projects and it works incredibly well. The whole point of user stories is to facilitate conversations and better communication, who wouldn’t want that?