Building an Agile Team: Writing an Effective User Story [VIDEO]

Our Building an Agile Team video series has covered a wide range of topics for putting together a successful team in 2016.

Jillian Haffner, Director of Cloud Solutions & Integrations at Turbine/Warner Brothers Games, and Jennifer Davis, Software Engineer at Chef have shared perspectives on DevOps, explained how to hire and organize team members, and have challenged many of the accepted practices across Dev and QA.

In the final video of the Building an Agile Team series, Jillian and Jennifer offer their advice for writing an effective user story.

What is a user story? How can it help you understand the requirements of your audience? And why should it become a standard practice within your team?

Watch the final video to find out.

Jillian Haffner

I’ll explain what a user story really is but I’m going to throw Starbucks under the bus. Comedians make fun of this and I’m going to piggy back on it. You walk into Starbucks — I want a large coffee, I want it regular, and I want it made with milk. I don’t want a venti something or other…

The user story is that I want a simple interface to order a coffee and if I can’t have that, I don’t want to use that tool. As a result, I want a simple interface so I go to Dunkin Donuts. I can walk in and say I want a medium iced coffee with cream and sugar. And I will get that.

What we’re talking about is a user’s interface to an application. The story is this: the interface you have built me is too complicated. I have to look up definitions to figure out how to use it. I want this to be more simplistic or I will use another system. That is a user story.

Jennifer Davis

The problem is that we don’t have great communities built up at the interface points between all the random consumers out and the world and companies, at least in most places. That’s why some companies won’t change, because they’re not hearing you.


But if enough people complain about the interface or decide not to shop there, they will change. They will listen to the customers. Think of the clothing industry. Why do I have go into a store and try on six pairs of pants? Nothing is standardized. If I go to a website, it’s even harder.

Guys can go in and they ask for a pair of 32x34 jeans and they walk in and walk out. They don’t have to think about it. They try on one pair, they say this is what I want and they grab a stack of the same style and walk out. I go into a store to buy a pair of jeans, I have to choose from different styles which are probably cut from different manufacturers in different countries, so I still need to try them on to figure out what size I am.

That goes to QA. It’s never a repeatable process. Do they measure them before or do they measure them after?


It goes back to the job story versus the user story. You are a user describing what you want. But usually a developer will write a user story without being a user.

That’s why I like job stories. Anyone can write a job story. A job story explains what I want in the end. Like my idea for a coffee app, I don’t want you sharing my location with every crazy stalker type person. I want it to be secure. But I’m not saying it must comply with a specific law because maybe I don’t know enough about security; I don’t have all the information. So I come up with a set of job stories that describe what I want in the end. Like, my pants fit like this and I don’t have to go to the store all the time looking for a new pair. That’s why I like the focus on the user and their experience, not even getting to “it will have a button that looks like this and a button that looks like that.”


So many people don’t know how to write a user story.  All they do is take the system shell or system will and take that off and say we want something that does this. Those aren’t user stories. A user story is a paragraph about how we’re going to use it, the intent, and why did we want it this way?


I love when they switch the system and say, “the operator shall…” Who are you calling an operator? Because you’re testing and using the software too, so are you an operator? Because they would probably say no, I’m a developer.

Check out the entire Building an Agile Team video series on the SmartBear YouTube Channel.



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