The AwkEng Breaks Down User Stories

Hi all,

Today's post is to share some previously developed training material about working collaboratively with product management, design, and engineering to break down user stories.

At the core, I truly believe that good process and good technique results in better outcomes, with less stress. I've seen multiple teams benefit, including previous teams I've worked with and with past clients. People have been nice enough to say things like "Sam is an engineering whisperer" and "With Sam, I can't tell where the product/design process ends and where the engineering process begins."

Mostly, I've just connected dots from the work of others. User Story Mapping, by Jeff Patton, is phenomenal, but I've been able to incorporate ideas from all sorts of other places and my own experiences as both a Program Manager and Product Manager.

This talk is aimed mostly at software teams, but the content has value for back end software teams too, and has nuggets that hardware teams will find valuable, if not directly relevant.

I suppose if there's one, maybe two big ideas, it's this: First, I'm picky about language, because there's a big difference between a user story and a feature, which in turn is different then an engineering task. Second, I use techniques like asking for "good, better, best" versions of things to facilitate discussions, and make room to talk about options and tradeoffs. Which is all part of making good decisions.

So really this talk is about taking a high level user story about say, building a shopping list app, and breaking that down to the nitty gritty details. (Should it be sortable? Alphabetically? By aisle at the store? By price?). Because at the end of the day, nitty gritty details are what's being built. And some details are probably worth building before others. Figuring out how to do that collaboratively in a high functioning team takes work, but it's also really fun when it gels, and leads to building awesome stuff.

Finally, I'll say that this content doesn't say anything about identifying customer problems, or knowing that a problem is worth solving. That's a topic for another day.

I'm not sure how well the material stands without me talking through it, but I've added my notes, where I thought it made sense. Anyway, the slide deck is online and available here.

Happy to discuss, debate, and take questions!

best regards!
Sam Feller

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