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: http://practicalagility.blogspot.com/2011/07/whither-requirements.html

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

  1. Hi Steve,I wasn’t quite trying to say that.First, I was (trying) to say that the order in which the information appears for those we are communicating with does not need to match the order in which we think about things. We can think about business value first but put it last as additional context in the "so-that" if we want… Collecting the information – think about value first – communicating it to someone implementing the feature – it can come second as additional context.Secondly, I was (trying) to say that the ‘in order to’ being about business value in the context of a user story works better in a theme… Instead, the ‘so-that’ should still be in the user story but for the "what’s in it for the user" type of benefit…As follows:Theme: In order to <some business value> Story: <title of a user story> As <someone> I want <some capability> so that <some user-focused benefit> Story: <title of another user story> As <someone> I want <some capability> so that <some user-focused benefit>I hope that clarifies things.Antony

  2. (Posted previously but &gt; &lt; surrounded text was hidden as it was interpreted as xml tags).Hi Steve,I wasn’t quite trying to say that.First, I was (trying) to say that the order in which the information appears for those we are communicating with does not need to match the order in which we think about things. We can think about business value first but put it last as additional context in the "so-that" if we want… Collecting the information – think about value first – communicating it to someone implementing the feature – it can come second as additional context.Secondly, I was (trying) to say that the ‘in order to’ being about business value in the context of a user story works better in a theme… Instead, the ‘so-that’ should still be in the user story but for the "what’s in it for the user" type of benefit…As follows:Theme: In order to <some business value> Story: [title of a user story] As [someone] I want [some capability] so that [some user-focused benefit] Story: [title of another user story] As [someone] I want [some capability] so that [some user-focused benefit]I hope that clarifies things.Antony

  3. (Posted previously but &lt; &gt; surrounded text was hidden as it was interpreted as xml tags; Fixed one that I missed in the previous attempt to correct it).Hi Steve,I wasn’t quite trying to say that.First, I was (trying) to say that the order in which the information appears for those we are communicating with does not need to match the order in which we think about things. We can think about business value first but put it last as additional context in the "so-that" if we want… Collecting the information – think about value first – communicating it to someone implementing the feature – it can come second as additional context.Secondly, I was (trying) to say that the ‘in order to’ being about business value in the context of a user story works better in a theme… Instead, the ‘so-that’ should still be in the user story but for the "what’s in it for the user" type of benefit…As follows:Theme: In order to [some business benefit]Story: [title of a user story]As [someone]I want [some capability]so that [some user-focused benefit]Story: [title of another user story]As [someone]I want [some capability]so that [some user-focused benefit]I hope that clarifies things.Antony

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