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  • Business Analysis, User Stories, and Agile Methodology

Business Analysis, User Stories, and Agile Methodology

    In my last post on business analysis in content management, I mentioned that methods used in business analysis are: focus groups, documentation analysis, surveys, user task analysis, process mapping, stakeholders interviews, use cases, user stories, personas, storyboards, etc. In my today's post, I am going to describe user story method.
     
    A user story is a short, simple description of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new system capabilities, usually a user or a customer of the system. It is one or few sentences in the everyday or business language that captures what a user does or needs to do as part of his or her job functions.
     
    User stories are used with Agile software development methodologies as the basis for defining the functions that a business system must provide. It captures the "who", "what" and "why" of a requirement in a simple, concise way, often limited in detail by what can be hand-written on a small paper notecard. User stories are written by or for a business user as that user's primary way to influence the functionality of the system being developed.
     
    User stories are a quick way of handling users' requirements without having to create formalized requirement documents and without performing administrative tasks related to maintaining them. The intention of the user story is to be able to respond faster and with less overhead to rapidly changing business requirements.
     
    During the process of collecting users requirements, a business analyst gets together with a users' representative to identify the specific needs of the business and create user stories.
     
    As the customer conceives the user stories, business analyst writes them down on a note card with a name and a description which the customer has formulated. If the business analyst and the user find that the user story is lacking in some way (too large, complicated, imprecise), it is rewritten until it is satisfactory often using the INVEST guidelines.
     
    The INVEST guidelines was created by Bill Wake as the characteristics of a good quality user story: 
    Letter
    Meaning
    Description
    I
    Independent
    The user story should be self-contained, in a way that there is no inherent dependency on another user story.
    N
    Negotiable
    User stories can always be changed and rewritten.
    V
    Valuable
    A user story must deliver value to the end user.
    E
    Estimatable
    You must always be able to estimate the size of a user story.
    S
    Sized appropriately or Small
    User stories should not be so big as to become impossible to plan/task/prioritize with a certain level of certainty.
    T
    Testable
    The user story or its related description must provide the necessary information to make test possible.

    User stories generally are not created to be too definite once they have been written down because requirements tend to change during the development period. 

    User stories generally follow the following template:
     
    As a "role", I want "goal" so that "benefit".
    As a "user" I want to "do something" so that "I can accomplish goal".
    As a "user" I want "function" so that "value".
     
    There is also shorter version:
     
    As a "role", I want "goal/benefit"
     
    For example:
     
    "As the CTO, I want the system to use our existing orders database rather than create a new one so that we don’t have one more database to maintain.
    "As a user, I want the site to be available 99.9% of the time I try to access it so that I don’t get frustrated and find another site to use."
    "As an estimator, I want to see all items I need to estimate this season so that I can see the volume of my work."
    "As a user, I want to search for my customers by their first and last names."
     "As a user closing the application, I want to be prompted to save if I have made any change in my data since the last save."
     
    User stories are often written on index cards or sticky notes, stored in a shoe box, and arranged on walls or tables to facilitate planning and discussion. As such, they strongly shift the focus from writing about features to discussing them. In fact, these discussions are more important than whatever text is written.
     
    As a central part of many agile development methodologies, user stories define what is to be built in a project. User stories are prioritized by developers to indicate which are most important. User stories then will be broken down in tasks and estimated by developers.
     
    One of the benefits is that they can be written at varying levels of detail. We can write user stories that cover large amounts of functionality. These large user stories are generally known as epics. Here is an example epic from a desktop backup product:
     
    "As a user, I can backup my entire hard drive."
     
    Because an epic is generally too large for an agile team to complete in one iteration, it is split into multiple smaller stories before it is worked on. The epic above could be split into dozens (or possibly hundreds), including these two:
     
    "As a power user, I can specify files or folders to backup based on file size, date created, and date modified."
    "As a user, I can indicate folders not to backup so that my backup drive isn’t filled up with things I don’t need saved."
     
    Agile projects use a product backlog which is a prioritized list of the functionality to be developed in a product or service. Although product backlog items can be whatever the team desires, user stories have emerged as the best and most popular form of product backlog item.
     
    While a product backlog can be thought of as a replacement for the requirements document of a traditional project, it is important to remember that the written part of a user story (“As a user, I want…”) is incomplete until the discussions about that story occur. It is often best to think of the written part as a pointer to the real requirement. A user story could point to a diagram depicting a workflow, a spreadsheet showing how to perform a calculation, or any other artifact the product owner or team desires.
     
    Every user story must at some point have one or more acceptance tests attached, allowing the developer to test when the user story is done and also allowing the user to validate it. Without a precise formulation of the requirements, prolonged nonconstructive arguments may arise when the product is to be delivered.
     
    Agile methodology favors face-to-face discussion over comprehensive documentation and quick adaptation to change instead of fixation on the problem. User stories achieve this by: 
    • Being very short. They represent small chunks of business value that can be implemented in a period of days to weeks. 
    • Allowing a developer and a user to discuss requirements throughout the project. 
    • Needing very little maintenance. 
    • Only being considered at the time of use. 
    • Maintaining a close user contact. 
    • Allowing projects to be broken into small increments. 
    • Being suited to projects where the requirements are volatile or poorly understood. Iterations of discovery drive the refinement process. 
    • Making it easier to estimate development effort. 
    • Require close customer contact throughout the project so that the most valued parts of the project get implemented. 
    Some of the limitations of user stories in agile methodologies: 
    • They can be difficult to scale to large projects. 
    • They are regarded as conversation starters. 
    While both user stories and use cases serve the purpose to capture specific user requirements, there are major differences between them:

    User Stories
    Use Cases
    Provide a small-scale and easy-to-use presentation of information. Are generally formulated in the everyday language of the user and contain little detail, thus remaining open to interpretation. They should help the reader understand what the software should accomplish.
    Describe a process and its steps in detail, and may be worded in terms of a formal model. A use case is intended to provide sufficient detail for it to be understood on its own. A use case has been described as “a generalized description of a set of interactions between the system and one or more actors, where an actor is either a user or another system”.
    Can be accompanied by Acceptance Testingprocedures for clarification of behavior where stories appear ambiguous.
    May be delivered in a stand-alone document.
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