Transforming Technical Tasks into Meaningful User Stories

How to Write Technical User Stories.

This article discusses how using the classic traditional user story format can help transform your technical tasks into something more meaningful — a value based high performing Technical User Story!

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash
Why would you do this, you may ask?
Simple, it is all about value, and value should be a the forefront of everything we do!

The Traditional User Story

First, let’s look at how effective user stories are by breaking down my favourite and most highly used user story format.

Role-Feature-Reason method

As I have written in the past article called Writing Better User Stories (on Medium), I talk about the recipe for a classic user story format:
  • “As a [type of user] I want [some feature] so that [some reason].”
This is the Role-Feature-Reason technique, it is the benchmark for all good user stories. And it helps you gain and keep the focus on what is important, the business goal because the short sentence structure keeps the focus on the who, what, and why.

By focusing on the who, what, and why, the development team is empowered to find the best technical solution.

Writing Technical User Stories

There could be times where you or your product owner may want to write a Technical Task into a User Story to help quantify business value of it. However, as you know of user stories — they are written for humans to achieve something of value.

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

So how can you do this for technical tasks?

Many people write technical stories where the who is a piece of technology, or something a technical resource needs to do for the product.
Some of this is normal, especially to avoid incurring large amounts of technical debt. With these Technical User Stories, there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind.

Technical User Story Guidelines

  1. The Product Owner must prioritise Technical User Stories, so, the story is written with an understanding of why it’s valuable. To do this, reframe Technical Tasks into a User Story that still shows the business value. 
  2. Product Owners along with the Scrum Masters should then ask the team why they feel the specific Technical User Story is so important. Have this dialogue, and get to an understanding of its value. 
Remember: value must always the driver.
I recommend using the following examples to write an effective user story focused on value. 

Examples

You could have simple and effective Technical User Stories that are value based (the what and why), such as:
Short versions
  • We need to refactor the xyz sub-system using abc pattern to improve robustness
  • We need to create an enterprise service bus for communication between components to reduce coupling.
Longer versions
To the more detailed Technical User Story that provides more context, with value (who, why and what):
  • In order to increase the Acme app’s user capacity to over a thousand users, we need to upgrade the database. This allows the product owner to actually prioritise how important this is in the context of other business priorities, even though it’s a technical task.
For both versions, you should always include an Acceptance Criteria, along with listing any risks, assumptions, success goals and other technical notes within the user story.
As you can see, having a value focus —even technical tasks can be transformed into high priority valued items easily using this technique.

Technical User Story Recipe Tips

  • Contain no users
  • Simply think of the goal you are trying to achieve...
  • The value of that goal..
    • "I want...  so that..."

Key Takeaways

  • Communicating and writing user stories is a key skill that helps product owners keep value top of mind and communicate valuing user perspective to the team.
  • These tips should help create user stories that generate great dialogue and move your team forward.
Although it may not suit all environments, as you and your team develop and mature through your agile journey and gain confidence, this technique can help optimise your team into a high performing one.