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How Lab Zero Writes User Stories

Lab Zero is a development and design agency in San Francisco

We like to talk about trends we're seeing and tricks we're learning so we can make you cool products.

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How to Write Great User Stories

If user stories are a part of your process, you likely see them as an essential tool to help your team focus on the task at hand. Over the years, we have found that the activities that surround story writing are as important as the story itself.

Our latest guide on user story best practices explains the fundamentals as well as some methods unique to Lab Zero’s approach. Below you’ll find a few tips which have helped our team deliver value early, often and predictably.

Collaborate to create context

During discovery, the product owner and designer ‘get out of the building’ and pair on customer development activities. They collaborate to map the customer journey, state the goal, and foster a team discussion. Reviewing the opportunity with the team helps align around vision and consider what may be the riskiest assumptions.

Product owners write epics

At Lab Zero, we plant the product owner firmly in the problem space. Activities are focused on open-ended learning which informs hypotheses, measurements, and prioritization.

Holding back from prematurely proposing solutions builds space for your cross-functional team to bring their creativity and expertise to bear. A common artifact of these activities is a summary of the project’s context and an ordered list of epics.

Designers write user stories

A shared context and a prioritized list of epics empower the designer to work creatively on the customer experience moment-to-moment — the interaction patterns, design principles, and edge cases.

We’ve seen a number of problems arise if user stories are written prior to or without the designer’s involvement:

  • Design doesn’t have enough time to fully consider the customer experience. Instead, they’re forced to design based on a list of tactical stories possibly written from the business owner’s perspective, instead of the user’s.
  • The pre-written stories don’t match the final design, and dev has to reconcile the inconsistencies before starting work.
  • The stories are incomplete. It’s hard to anticipate all the edge cases of a feature before it’s gone through the design process.

Designs help clarify to the entire team what will be done. They naturally tease out edge cases. Discuss with your team what fidelity of design is right for your situation.

Keep sharing

Peer review throughout the process helps keep the whole team aligned and engaged. While you have likely connected with many of your team members throughout discovery and ideation, it’s essential that everyone is involved in Story Time. This is where the designer has the opportunity to present a group of stories to the team for feedback and estimation.

Want more? Check out our guide: How We Write User Stories.

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