User Stories: “As a… I want… So that” story format considered harmful.

Einstein apparently said. “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

He would probably have said “Never use a tool you do not understand”.

From experience, most stories I’ve seen use the “As a… I want…” format with “So that…” added to improve their appeal to business investors. A bit like lip stick on a pig.

Consider these “So that” examples from a super duper tip top team I know…

  • “So that I can start using the system”
  • “So that I can cover my arse”
  • “So that there is less risk to manual error”

The problem with “As a… I want” format is that business value is an afterthought. However, it is a dangerous after thought. Seeing it there leads the business to think that some thought has been put into value when the reality is it has not been.

A subtle but more insidious problem with the format is that the user is the starting point. This means that the target solution starts by assuming certain roles will perform certain functions. Often a project will result in responsibilities being re-distributed to different roles. This situation needs to be handled with care and delicacy. By stating who will perform which roles, you may be signalling to a user group that they are losing or gaining new responsibilities… both of which may be unpopular.

Although I do not use the formats, I prefer “In order to… As a… I need” which places business value up front as the primary concern. Check out Antony Marcano’s blog post for more detail.

Which way do you do stories? Is it just about shared understanding? – see: