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How and Why Create User Stories?

Roman C, PM
December 14, 2021

Today’s software users are highly demanding when it comes to all essential aspects of a digital product. Be it a regular food ordering app or a big eCommerce marketplace, everybody is looking for the fastest, most seamless way to fulfill one’s desires, solve one’s issues, and satisfy one’s specific needs. Such a state of things sets the common UX quality bar pretty high. And an insightful user story is what can help you timely adjust to strict market requirements.

A user story is your trusty in-depth analysis tool that enables you (as a digital product owner, designer, software engineer, etc.) to take a meta-position of an end customer. Or, in simpler words, to try on your target users’ shoes and see how well they fit those users both in theory and practice. And this is exactly where a well-thought-out user story can become a game-changer approach in your usual user experience design practices.

But let’s dive into a bit more details to see how user stories help achieve the UX that motivates users to make snap decisions, leading them seamlessly through the sales funnel


What’s a User Story All About?

A user story is, basically, a roadmap of an application’s user experience routine - i.e., the way they use the application interface to achieve certain goals through certain in-app actions. Only it goes more in-depth - the essential “pillars” of a user story include:

  • User’s motivation to use a certain app for certain purposes;
  • User’s expectation of employing certain actions;
  • Extent of user’s effort to achieve goals (number of actions, complexity of interaction, functional variety, etc.).

The results of analyzing and researching every step of the way are recorded in a product-specific description, which is what a “user story” formally is - an outlined manifest on all major product features and how specific types of users actually use those features to achieve certain goals (as well as for what specific purposes they do that in the first place).

As such, you or your software design specialists (any product stakeholder, really) get practical kick-off points to optimize the overall UX for the smoothest, fastest, most personalized interaction conditions possible. 

At that, a “user” can be a regular person that downloads your solution or a developer/admin/specialist that is using a specialized solution in their professional workflow. To start properly tailoring a user story to the needs of a particular type of user, it is crucial to have a clear portrait of the solution’s target audience, which is yet another essential element of good UX research and preparation.

Importance of TA portrait in a user story composition

A user persona is the paramount part of any user story. The portrait of your target audience is the big detailed picture of who the essential users of your product are, what their traits are, and for what pains or purposes they are to use your product. The better you know your TA, the easier it will be for you to personalize major UX aspects to their liking. On top of that, you will be able to more efficiently stimulate the overall product demand, finding new customers across related segments. Forming the TA portrait is usually an internal business process based on thorough research and analysis.

The essential aspects of a common TA outline usually include:

  1. TA demographics - your target users/customers’ common age category, prevalent gender, and average income;
  2. TA geography - regions or individual places (cities) you are looking to cover;
  3. TA personal traits - common preferences, line of work, and hobbies;
  4. TA’s product use/purchase motivation - pains, tasks, and goals your product helps solve, complete, and achieve.

Depending on a particular business situation, certain aspects may be more prioritized than others. For instance, for some startups, even the family status of their TA is relevant to the outline of the user story. 

As for the research and analysis - there are multiple ways to acquire all the data you need. Profiled specialists equipped with tools like Google Analytics know all about extracting and gathering valuable data on user demographics, behavioral traits, etc. 

The most reliable tool here, however, is feedback - getting direct TA insights beats all other approaches in terms of transparency of acquired information. To get feedback, you may survey people via online forms or email newsletters. Prototyping, beta-testing, or MVP phase are the best periods for conducting such surveys among involved users.

Composing a User Story - What You Need to Know

Now that you know on what basis and how TA portraits are usually formed, you can work out the summarizing description of your users and compose a user story based on that. There is but one nuance - unless it is targeted at a very narrow segment of users (e.g., system admins), your product will be used by a number of different people, some of whom may not fall under the properties of the target audience but still may be interested in your product. 

This is why you may want to segment the “main protagonists” of your user story by sub-categories:

Target audience - top-priority users that serve as the foundation for the user story;

General audience - mid-priority users that may not fit the TA description precisely, but still would probably try to use your product;

Random audience - miscellaneous users whom you may satisfy too even if they don’t really experience issues your product solves by providing a high level of user experience by common standards.

This should help you form a broader picture of the user experience your product provides. A multifaceted perspective especially helps software designers in building consistent designs with all-around convenient UX elements.

In what format to write user stories?

Actually, the exact way you can structure and outline a user story is up to you - convenient opportunities stretch from simple sticky paper notes to dedicated data storage in a specialized system (CRM or some other digital workflow platform). This depends on, among other factors, on the amount of collected information, the need to structure it, and your general working approach - user story composition may be more of a creative process (sticky notes) or require some formal technical work (data storage). 

There are also specialized tools just for convenient user stories mapping, such as:

  1. Realtime Board;
  2. StoriesOnBoard;
  3. Featmap;
  4. Avion;
  5. Online Visual Paradigm.

On top of that, you can find numerous collaborative platforms with fitting user story creation tools online.

Your user story formula

With all that being said, the main question stands - how does a user formula normally look? Considering all the preparation pro tips we provided above and taking things step by step, you should achieve formulations like the following:

As an app customer, I need an intuitive checkout page in order to conveniently make orders.

The three holding pillars of your user story are: 
Who - a customer;
What  - a checkout page;
Why - to make orders.

Outline a user role first, outline the required feature second, define this feature’s final benefit third. It’s as simple as that. Adjust this hierarchy to one or several other user roles and features you may be working with, the sky’s the limit for your user storyboard. At that, user stories may be written across all stages of product development - during preliminary planning, development workflow, and release preparations.

User tory composition pro tips

From our own field experience, we could confidently point out that when writing user stories, you should:
Compose stories for all involved types of users apart from the top-priority ones (remember the target, general, and random audiences);
Go big-to-small by outlining generalized “epic” stories first and then breaking them down into smaller substories dedicated to separate features;
Analyze time-efficiency of user stories - the goal is to optimize a user story so that it takes little time as possible to take a user from A (the need) to B (the result);
Approve composed user stories with other stakeholders and never neglect to have someone give a fresh look at a story.

With all the essential user story forming tasks out of the way, it is all about honing your user story for it to match your target users’ standards, requirements, and expectations.

Bottom Line

Personalization is a sign of true customer focus and concern for users from the product provider’s side. Efforts in this direction may take your startup or business a long way. This is why composing a user story should be a task that occupies a special place in one’s arsenal of efficient product development and optimization techniques. Stay in tune for more pro tips and insights on the most relevant IT practices.

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