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Are You Just Building User Stories or Improving User Job Performance?

user stories

Let’s net this out!

Your product has two goals:

  1. Make customers measurably better at specific job tasks and workflows that have strategic value to their organization.
  2. Create long-term value for your organization in terms of revenue, market share, wallet share and customer retention.

Goal #2 can’t be met without accomplishing goal #1.

If you’re on board so far, pause your reading for a minute and go look at your backlog of user stories.

I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that 95% or more of your user stories describe how product features should work without any context on user value that can be quantified.

If I’m dead wrong, you can stop reading now. If I’m right, read on.

For all the things I love about Agile, the one thing I don’t like is the too-heavy emphasis on cranking out features quickly and efficiently and not nearly enough emphasis on the value context of what you’re building and why it’s valuable relative to goal #1 above.

In extreme cases, everything is focused on how many features are coming out the bottom of the funnel with no construct for what’s going in the top or how it gets there.

All User Stories Are Not Created Equal

In their most granular form, product user stories have to describe features and how they should work so that engineering tasks can be adequately defined to get the features built. No argument there.

However, in their less granular format, and without any reference to features, job task user stories have to describe the user job task, the ideal outcome and the obstacles preventing that outcome.

There’s a one-to-many relationship between a job task user story and multiple product user stories required to get the outcome.

The User Story Food Chain From the Bottom Up

If my description of a job task user story is synonymous with your epic, you’re in good shape, as long as…you have multiple epics tied to a higher-level business requirement that’s top of mind with (customer) department heads. Think director and VP priorities.

Let’s keep going up the food chain.

If you then have multiple business requirements tied to an executive-level (customer) strategic goal that’s common across your markets, you’re golden. Your trail of breadcrumbs goes from:

  • Improving tactical user job tasks required to…
  • Execute on operational/department head priorities that are necessary to…
  • Meet executive level strategic priorities shaped by the dynamics of the customer’s market.

How simple was that? A far cry from rocket science for sure!

Here’s the moral of the story (pun intended): If your starting point for user stories is all about improving user job performance, it forces you to keep asking “WHY is that valuable?”

Don’t stop asking WHY until you’ve reached the top of the food chain. You’ll be amazed at how easy, clear and succinct the product user stories become.

Check out our School of Product Management for courses that help you deliver products with more user value and more strategic value!

by John Mansour on May 9, 2022.