Low-code App Development
September 14, 2022

How to Write Clear User Stories

Custom Software Development - From Dream to Reality:

So you have taken the plunge and signed on to develop an app with StayShure (or someone else, that's okay). What happens next?

Once your project begins active development, it is passed to a project leader who will help move the idea from the proposal stage to “let’s make the blueprints.” At this point in app development, there are three steps we work through:

  1. Developing a basic site map (we use a collaborative no-code app called FlowMapps).
  2. Defining user personas (FlowMapps is excellent here as well).
  3. Drafting user stories (we use a Google Sheet for this step).

Most clients have a simple site map in mind and also know what kind of users they want to target, but user stories are often unfamiliar to our clients.

What Are User Stories?

User stories have been around since the late 90s, but they aren't often utilized outside of the software development world. To be precise: a user story is a short description of an action a user wants to perform while using a piece of software.


User stories most often follow this formula: Who, What, Why. Sometimes they can be more complex, but we find keeping it simple is best. This pattern works well for us: As a <user> I <verb> (e.g., want to/can/am required to do something)> <some goal> (e.g., delete users from the system/verify my phone number, etc.)> so that <some reason>.


Examples of Good User Stories:

It's probably best to provide some examples of good user stories. Let’s imagine we are making an app for a vet clinic. Remember the pattern, Who, What, Why:

  • “As a pet owner, I want to review my pet’s medical history, so I can see if their shots are up to date.”
  • “As a vet, I want to send a confirmation text to all clients 24 hours before their appointment so that I can avoid no-shows as often as possible.”
  • “As a potential client, I want to be able to see prices for all vet services without making an account, so I can decide if I want to use this clinic.”

The Context of User Stories:

As you can see from the above examples, good user stories are concise and target the smallest action a user can perform in an app. If we use building blocks as a metaphor, user stories are the smallest block in the pyramid. For this reason, When a user story gets too complex, it needs to be broken down into more user stories. If we find conjunction words in our user story like, “but,” “and,” or “or” we know we should make multiple user stories. When we have similar stories, we group them under a heading called a “Story Epic.”


While user stories fall under the umbrella category of an epic, epics fall under the umbrella of Themes. This means User Stories and Epics support a specific Theme. Sometimes we can simply organize themes around the site pages: e.g., schedule, blog, dashboard, etc.).


Two Rules for Effective User Stories:

To use user stories effectively, we follow two basic rules to keep them as simple and valuable as possible:

  1. Good user stories prescribe the what, not the how. It is frequently said that user stories start conversations about requirements; they are not requirements themselves. In 1998, Alistair Cockburn defined a user story as a “promise for conversation.” For this reason, after we draft user stories, we ask our clients to rank them by priority (high, medium, low) and make comments about them to ensure we understand the app's goals before we begin wireframing designs. Typically, this process helps us find ways to eliminate unnecessary features or discover emergent features missed during the initial proposal stage and get to an MVP app as soon as possible (Minimum Viable Product). By not providing the exact requirements for accomplishing the user’s goals, our developers and project leaders are freed up to apply their creativity to the development process.
  2. Good user stories keep the user central and help define what success means. The most important reason to write user stories is that they keep the user central throughout app development. Sometimes developers, clients, and product owners can accidentally think their app is about them, but user stories ensure the development process remains user-centered. If a user can’t accomplish their goals, they won’t use your app! Additionally, user stories provide an excellent template for QA testing. The feature is not fully delivered until a user story works without bugs.

Conclusion: User Stories Make App Developers Just as Happy as the Customer

Hopefully, you are convinced that user stories provide an excellent early step in app development! In addition, we have found that breaking down the development process into bite-size pieces makes everyone feel like progress is being made quickly and that the road map for development is easy to track. We believe everyone is more satisfied with custom app development when the client’s bulls-eye is defined as narrowly as possible. In other words…When an app development client wants to have custom software developed we ensure that we write clear user stories so that the software is built according to the owner’s vision. What’s your vision? Let’s connect to see how we can help bring it to life!

If you haven't heard, we offer fractional CTO services which can continue pre and post software development, or just be an add-on to your existing business so that your tech is the most efficient and profitable for your company. Here is a summary of how that can help digitally transform your company and here is the more detailed explanation for the curiously-minded.

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