Project managers are constantly balancing and matching the requirements from the project planning phase, as received from the customer, with the specifications and details needed by the development teams as the project moves through its development cycle. Using user stories to develop a product requirement document (PRD) can often be more efficient than a list of to-dos, as a user story is more comprehensive in its containment of technical requirements and user experience requirements. User stories also give developers an end use case for how that feature should eventually work, and how the user will interact with it.

What Is a User Story

A user story is a software system requirement formulated as one or more sentences in the everyday or business language of the user. User stories are used with Agile software development methodologies for the specification of requirements (together with acceptance tests). Each user story is limited, to ensure that it does not grow too large.

Example User Story: 
As a non-administrative user, I can modify my own schedules but not the schedules of other users.

User stories are a quick way of handling customer requirements without having to elaborate vast formalized requirement documents and without performing overloaded administrative tasks related to maintaining them. The intention with the user story is to be able to respond faster and with less overhead to rapidly changing real-world requirements.

User Stories vs. To-Do Lists

User stories offer a distinct advantage over to-do lists as they provide a framework and organizational structures for the different features of the product under development. Once a user story is created, tasks, defects, and test cases are all created within its framework. Therefore, after all tasks and bugs have been addressed, the developer can reference the user story to confirm that the end use case is working properly. User stories offer another advantage over to-do lists in the way they help developers understand how a particular product feature should interact within the larger framework of the product. Whereas, to-do list items are often isolated and only address a particular item. While creating to-do lists can be rapid and easy, they can lead to a constant battle of fighting isolated events, instead of focusing on the end use case. Finally, user stories force product strategists and marketers to focus specifically on what the product needs in order to achieve its main objectives, keeping development budgets lean.

User Story Limitations and Other Words of Caution

As with anything else to do with project management methodologies and product development, it is important to find the right tools for your specific project, for your teams, and for your company. Although user stories can bring efficiency to a project, they do have some limitations.

User stories can be open to interpretation, which makes them difficult to use as the basis for agreement. Therefore, it is important when building the PRD that acceptance tests accompany the appropriate user stories. This ensures that the user story captures the true intention of the customer’s requirements. Furthermore, user stories require close customer contact throughout the project, which in some cases may be difficult or may be unnecessary overhead.

Due to the open nature of user stories, their successful implementation relies more on competent developers to translate the laymen language in technical specifications and eventually code. As with all other Agile software development methodologies, close team communication is imperative to its success. Project managers need to continually ensure that their team members are translating the project requirements correctly and efficiently.

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