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Product building: User Stories

Creating products from scratch is not easy. Apart from the necessity for a clear vision, there are many smaller decisions and possibilities to compare and consider. Having an efficient framework to handle that volume of information is extremely important, and User Stories are one of the best such tools.

Why the product building is complicated? All products are created with their end-users in mind, both physical and digital ones. As a whole, product must be solving its users' problems, like providing or processing information, performing some complex tasks, etc. Some of the digital products will have a very limited scope of usage, e.g. weather app will detect your location and show actual weather forecast. Some other products will have very complex functionality, like information systems, where many users collaborate in different roles on shared and individual pieces of information. Unless you already figured out what's the hardest part about product building, it's the feature scope complexity.

It's nothing to be worried about, as we have a tool to deal with the complexity and uncertainty: User Stories. You could think about them as requirements or product description, but they can offer much more.

What is a User Story? It's a short, usually one sentence long description of product's feature. For example:

> Given I'm a logged in user and given I'm on the category page, when I click on «Add new item» button, then I see new item form.
> It contains name, description, SKU, and price of the item.

As you can see, this short User Story describes a very precise part of the product's functionality. It provides following information:

  • Context and requirements like I am logged in and I am on the category page, describing the format requirements for the User Story to be valid,
  • Intent and actions like when I click on a button, defining some kind of actionable trigger that will start the feature described by the User Story,
  • Outcome and effects like new item form will be visible, defining the expected effect of the action,
  • Details and notes being anything else that is not directly related to the context, intent, and outcome, but provides further description of the story.

In minimal amount of words:
User Story = Context + Intent + Outcome (+ Details).

Some more examples, this time from the Cubitoo Blog, could be the search features:

> Given I'm on the blog's homepage, when I enter a phrase into the search box and I press "Search", then I will go to another page and see list of matching results.
> Each result present its title and first paragraph of the content.

> GIven I'm seeing search results, when I click on any piece of a search result, then I will go to the article's page.

Do you see a missing story here? Let's take a look, we enter a phrase and press "Search". What if we didn't enter anything?

> Given I'm on the blog's homepage, when I press "Search" without providing a keyword, then I will go to a dedicated search page.

> Given I'm on the dedicated search page, when I enter a phrase into the search box and I press "Search", then I will go to another page and see list of matching results.

Now it's much better, and thanks to the User Stories, we resolved the potentially unnoticed complexity.

Why User Stories? There are many other ways to describe a product, but User Stories have the ultimate benefit of being focused on the user experience. Do you remember why product building is complicated? As product builders, we want to solve many our users' problems, react to their individual needs, make our product customizable and adaptable. By utilizing story-based approach, we will always end up having the product aligned with the user's needs — unnecessary features will just look too complicated or awkward.

Benefits of the User Stories. We've already seen the first benefit: user experience focus. We've also seen another one: ability to spot missing or complex functionality. As Albert Einstein said: If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

If you paid attention to the structure of the User Story, you probably noticed that each story starts with a clearly defined context, i.e. description where the User Story happens and what are the requirements to allow it to happen. After you create enough User Stories, you will notice that many of them can be grouped either by their context (forming User Journey), or by their intent (forming Epics). These two deserve their own article and you will have a chance to read it soon!

User Stories are an efficient tool, narrowing the complexity to a very precise functionality scope. They also can be grouped and create a building block of a well-defined and effective product planning. Using them, you won't forget about functionality, limiting your stress and costs.

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