What Are User Stories & How Do They Help Your Team?

Writing user stories is a great way to connect your team with customer’s ever-changing needs and desired outcomes.

Human beings have told stories for almost as long as we’ve been able to communicate. They connect us, create shared narratives, share complex information, and build understanding between otherwise disparate groups. That’s why storytelling is still one of the best ways to build empathy with other people.

Stories are also a tool. They create a shorthand for close-knit communities by strengthening relationships and passing on essential knowledge. When you create a narrative around a particular experience, it helps everyone connect with that experience on a deeper level.

According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer, 76% of consumers expect companies to have a deep understanding of their needs. When you write a user story, you’re communicating those needs clearly with your team.

Developing new products is built on that shared understanding. User stories give your product team the ability to create a narrative around the types of products and features they build. Each story conveys your product’s value clearly and helps the team rally behind a shared sense of deep customer understanding.

What Are User Stories?

User stories are a team communication strategy that shifts the focus from talking about products to speaking about how those products add value to the user. These stories talk about new products, features, or updates from the customer's perspective instead of the business value. It's a fundamentally different way of conceptualizing potential solutions for any given problem.

Originally used as a part of the agile methodology, user stories are valuable for all product teams. They give you, the product manager, a way to communicate high-level concepts about your product in clear and concise terms. A user story can be as straightforward as a single sentence or a series of statements about how you envision people will interact with your product upon release.

User Stories Are Written Simply

Writing a compelling and actionable user story is all about helping your team empathize with a customer's underlying need or desired outcome. It connects the value of each product or feature you create with its real-world impact on someone's life. And that requires a considerable amount of customer insight.

So, creating engaging user stories starts with researching and analyzing existing customer data, market trends, and competitor offerings. Having a clearly defined product discovery process in place will help you accomplish this research quickly.

All user stories follow a clear framework or structure:

or, more simply:

Let’s say you’re a streaming platform, and you’re building out new functionality for your in-game chat feature. Your user story would look something like this:

A well-crafted user story like this will communicate a lot of different information to your team as they think about building out the feature. It outlines:

  • your target audience,
  • what they want, and
  • the impact on their experience.

While this simple sentence won’t necessarily drive your team throughout the entire product development process, it gives you a shorthand for speaking about the value their work provides to the overall customer experience.

User Stories Translate Complex Customer Needs for Your Team

User stories are a great tool for building your understanding of the user experience with your product. Not only do these stories communicate the real-world impact your product has on consumers, but they do so in a way the connects that impact with the overall expectations of value. It can be challenging to communicate the driving force behind your decisions to prioritize one project over the others in your product roadmap; a compelling user story makes that easy.

Utilize user stories to define your target audiences and craft the product experience to suit their individual needs. By taking a step back from specific project specifications, like back-end database needs or third-party integration requirements, you’re able to communicate product value without getting lost in day-to-day tasks. This increased visibility helps boost engagement with the overall product development process and helps your team stay connected to overarching customer-centric goals.

When you write effective user stories, they communicate the problem you’re trying to solve in a language every member of the team understands. And not just your product or development team — marketing, sales, and support can all see the real-world impact your upcoming product release has on the customer and their business. That makes it easier to rally cross-functional teams around shared goals and push things through the development process faster without sacrificing quality.

Keeping the story focused on the user also helps each team member engage with the product in a different way, making it easier for them to come up with clever solutions to common problems. It's a way to democratize product ideation and bring in feedback from stakeholders throughout your team.

When you tell a compelling story about the user, it also opens up features and requirements for more collaboration by leaving out the minutia of daily tasks or specific product metrics. Not to say these things aren't helpful, but as a product manager, it's important to also understand how you can communicate high-level goals and strategy without getting mired in your daily workflows.

The Best User Stories Help You Build Products That Matter

When you effectively communicate the real-world impact of every release, it helps your team stay connected with your customers’ needs and desired outcomes. That not only helps you work through the complex product development process faster, but it also gives you the ability to anticipate market and customer expectations of value. So much of your success hinges on your ability to provide continual value with each release, and your customers will recognize the fact that you genuinely understand what they want.