The User Story Generator (USG)

Don't panic! USG is upcoming ...

Did You ever felt that investigations on product requirements consume too much time?

I did. More than once.

/the Origins

Once at a client, I was hired to investigate on requirements for a major update for a long-term-running Business critical DB-centralized Application. It is already outdated, poorly manageable, not really scalable but the heart of the digital user interaction streams – for nearly 15 years now. With one word: it is IMPORTANT.

In parallel, I was hired at a company that does the mechanics underneath commercial websites. Typo3, Magento, Drupal and all that stuff. Every month, they have to onboard several clients to get their requirements converted into artefacts to work on and with in agile toolchains.

A..B=C
two environments – one idea: USG

By travelling between these two environments, I realized, that they both have the same challenge to face:
how do I get the requirements that really matter out of my stakeholders and users?

Well, nothing easier than that: write user stories (I thought by myself).

In reality, there were some barriers in mind of people that should deliver the input.
They are used to describe in a way, we cannot work with in the “agile World”.
These people are not familiar by describing what they want to gain from a system.
They are only used to describe what someone should do with a system.
It was kind of work to get out role descriptions for these actions.

But, what should be gained from it? No answers at all.

/the situation at start

At the client with the IMPORTANT DB-App, I ended up with a consolidated Excel-Sheet of over 150 entries and nearly no response in column “… to gain”. Blank canvas. No idea.

How should someone prioritize on a Business Value estimation if there is nothing at all?

We decided to do further investigation on the (internal) user group. People, that are working with the Application should be able to tell, what they expect from it and how they work on the objects they create, change or read.

But, if we would do these workshops an base of an Excel-list, we were feared of ending up the group watching one person filling out the list and the others starring silently on the beamer image. That wasn’t the way we intended to do this “interactive workshop”.

I analyzed the pattern behind what we could imagine and realized that there are some clusters of actions, objects and roles. We just need to fix some smaller deviations in a silent, non-distractive way.

/the solution

The “User Story Generator” was born.

Don't panic! USG is upcoming ...
User Story Generator

It bases on the “mix-and-match” idea. You can fix the technical constraints once, flip some roles back and forth and concentrate on actions and what You intend to gain from it. The fast way to document is just writing down a code like B-H-D-27 or photo-protocolling. It is the very short form of:

“In my Role as <User> | I want to <revoke> <my consent> | to unsubscribe <a newsletter>.” (27:) with a responsive design supporting the current browser-matrix; additionally on full-size eMail clients in a dialogue manner.

/the improving impact

By flipping the stripes, You are very fast in quick assessing what Your stakeholders expect from the application.

Converting it into well described development items i.e. in JIRA will take some time.
You can do on Your own. There is no need for a bunch of people watching You typing in.

And btw., You are a lot more concentrated doing it afterwards than in front of an un-invited audience, hungry to move on and get the meeting to a successful end.

/the tool: User Story Generator

Good news: You can order copies of the USG here.

/besides

Creating and filling Excel-lists will feed waterfallic mindsets by suggesting “all”, “comprehensive” and “sorted”.
Beware of this. It distracts consciousness from importance – from what is first in Your mind. Not a good idea for shaping a MVP (Minimal Viable Product).

Sticky Notes are a little better, but even they take their time to capture and pin.
They might be also too short (<role>, <action> on <object>, <result>) or too long in writing on a single note (In my <role> as …)

The USG brings everything repetitive and therefore fixable with it.
It leaves only the deviations prefilled or blank.
Just to maximize impact on least effort. Agility, You know …

/famous last words

Life runs in circles. Some are smaller, some are bigger.
In the end, there is no end – only another beginning.

“Enjoy, and share if You like.”
“Feel free to make life great!”

“Likes” are welcome. Comments are appreciated.

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2 thoughts on “The User Story Generator (USG)

  1. Great job Alexander.
    Well, I worked as Interims Product Owner and I had to write the user stories. To get the stories out of the stakeholders was that hard, thus I used bar iron like use cases, than they could work with it and we could write the stories.

    He thought that he is that clear in his mind, that i should understand what he likes to get, because HE is the project manager and tells where to go. (Not in a complex environment ;-).)

    But, what he didn’t know, if the PO does not understand the requirements, than he couldn’t explain well.

    If I had those cards at that time, I have been that fast, like Mohammad Ali:
    I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.
    😉

    Like

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