How to Write User Stories to Guide Your Product Development Process

User stories help you understand the product experience from the user’s perspective and communicate high-level concepts to your team — which is why learning how to create them correctly is so important.

User stories help product teams of all sizes conceptualize the product experience and understand users' needs. On top of that, they also align teams on shared product goals and improve collaboration.

However, agile product teams need to know how to write user stories correctly in order to get the most out of them. Creating compelling user stories requires research, collaboration, and technological resources, all working in harmony.

What Is a User Story?

A user story is an agile technique that product teams use to see their product from the user's point of view. They are brief descriptions (one or two sentences) of what users are attempting to accomplish with your product, and writing them can help teams discover opportunities for improvement.

  • As a freelancer, I want to organize my client work better, so I can be more productive and meet more deadlines.
  • As a remote manager, I want to better track my employees’ progress towards company goals even if they’re not in the office, so I can better report our success.
  • As an eCommerce store owner, I want to manage my product inventory better so that whenever a popular item is about to run out, I can instantly reorder it to avoid stockouts.

7 Tips on How to Write User Stories

Product teams typically create user stories at the start of each product project. Here are our recommendations for writing better user stories to guide your product development:

1. Create Your Buyer Persona

Writing the ideal user story starts by understanding your target audience. If you can’t identify the needs of your ideal user, you won’t be able to build a product that meets their expectations. Here’s an example of what a buyer persona looks like:

Image Source

Unlike a B2C company, B2B brands don’t need to collect every nitty-gritty detail on their target user. So here’s what you should be focusing on discovering about your target audience:

  • Their Job Title: What field are they working in? Where is their work located? How long have they been working at their job?
  • Their Main Goal: What are they trying to achieve? How does the product you’re offering help them reach their personal or career goals?
  • Their Biggest Challenges: What’s their main pain point? What are their main day-by-day struggles that your product can solve?

There are different ways that you can collect user feedback to create your buyer persona. For example, one tactic is to conduct customer interviews: it’s an opportunity to ask them direct questions about their needs and expectations from the product.

You could also run customer surveys via social media or email. You can list a couple of questions that users must answer and provide them with a reward for their action, such as free gated content.

2. Keep User Stories Simple

User stories should always be simple, no more than two sentences, and shouldn’t include any complex terms. Here’s the simple format you should follow to write your user story:

“As a [type of user], I want/need to [perform an action] so that [the intended result].”

The goal is to make your user stories simple to follow for everyone on your team, regardless of their technical background.

3. Include Acceptance Criteria for Each Story

Writing a user story is an essential first step of product development, but it doesn’t provide enough information on how that user story will function in action. Acceptance criteria define the conditions required to complete a user story and ensure that it works. Let’s use the below user story as an example:

“As a subscribed customer to a SaaS platform, I want to use my promo code so that I can reduce my membership fee.”

Here are the acceptance criteria you can use to make sure that the user story is working:

  • If the promo code is incorrect or expired, the user receives an error message.
  • The user receives a message on how long their membership promo code will last.
  • The user’s invoice must come with information about their promo code.

Including acceptance criteria makes your user story testable and gives your developers context on what to execute to make the story come to life. For each user story, we recommend that you include around three to five acceptance criteria.

4. Make the User Story Process Collaborative

Creating user stories to guide product development requires input from various departments: developers, product owners, marketers, researchers, etc. By leveraging insights from each department, you’ll generate more ideas and create better user stories that are relevant to your target audience.

For example, your team of researchers may notice that your users have a frequent complaint about a specific feature and may have ideas about how to improve it. Or your product owner may see a trend in your industry and provide a vision of a feature you can include to keep up with the competition.

You can set up a workshop where everyone can bring their ideas. Then, the product owner will determine whether each user story matches the INVEST criteria in agile:

  • Independent
  • Negotiable
  • Valuable
  • Estimable
  • Small
  • Testable

5. Divide User Stories Into Group Activities

For better organization, divide your user stories into different group activities based on their interaction with your product. It allows your team to organize itself better and track each critical stage of the product experience.

For example, user stories that revolve around the user completing their first task or going through a product tutorial will go under “onboarding.” User stories that ask the user to provide their government documents, full name, and pictures can go under “ID verification.”

After dividing your user stories into group activities, you can prioritize them based on their importance during the user's product experience.

6. Make User Stories Visible to Everyone With Technology

To make user stories accessible and visible to everyone, you need to leverage user story mapping tools. These tools enable you to take a look at your user stories at any time and make updates.

You have a variety of tools in the market to choose from. The user story mapping platforms that we recommend include:

  • StoriesOnBoard: This platform allows you to align team members and showcase your user stories all in one place. It’s designed to be a visual aid for any stakeholder who doesn’t have a technical background.
  • CardBoard: CardBoard is a user story mapping tool to connect remote teams that you can use for other goals, such as business or opportunity plans. You can integrate the platform with tracking tools such as Trello, VersionOne, and Rally to get a clear view of the progress you’re making toward your goals.
  • Miro: Miro is an online whiteboard you can use to structure user stories, brainstorming, research, and product strategy outlines. You get access to countless templates, canvas, and widgets to give your user story map a unique feel.
  • FeatureMap: This tool allows you to structure your product backlog on a map and manage hundreds of cards simultaneously. It comes with a discussion feature, where team members can engage on the user story map in real time and provide feedback.

Experiment with each tool to find out which one suits your needs, the size of your team, and your budget.

7. Continually Update User Stories

User stories aren’t meant to be set in stone. Make sure to periodically review and update them based on the changing priorities of your team or changes in your industry.

As you’re writing your user stories, you can reach out to your customers and ask them via surveys if your user stories are accurate for their needs in the product experience. From there, you can proceed to tweak your user stories based on their feedback.

Improve Product Development by Writing the Right User Stories

It will take time and practice to create effective user stories, but the more you use them at the beginning of each project, the more comfortable you’ll become. Keep in mind that the mere exercise of writing user stories is only productive if you use them to guide your work.