Given how long I’ve been thinking about Agile + User Experience, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to start doing writing user stories that are centred on the personas we’ve created for the project. Nonetheless, it’s something I’ve started doing recently and I’ve found it to be really successful. I’m not the only one – Will Sansbury has written about it before and Joe Sokohl spoke about it recently at the Agile 2010 conference.
It’s as simple as it sounds – rather than writing user stories that nominate members of your project team, instead write them nominating the persona they are designed to most benefit.
For example, on the Project Verity backlog I’m working on with the team at Mark Boulton Design we have the occasional ‘as the developer, I want to…’ but the vast majority of our stories lead with ‘as Verity, I want to’, or occasionally ‘as Verity’s boss…’
This is, in theory, a teeny tiny change, but in practice I find it has two big effects.
Firstly, it keeps your personas alive and actively in use – this has always been a big challenge for UX people in agile and non-agile teams alike – here is one big opportunity where agile teams actually seem to have the edge.
Use your personas in your user stories and your personas can’t be left on a shelf to gather dust, instead they effectively become active members of your project team. If the stories don’t make sense with the personas, then either your story or the persona is at fault – the team needs to sort out which is at fault and make the appropriate adjustments. Which leads me to…
Secondly – it’s much harder to write a rubbish user story when it’s grounded in a persona. Let’s face it, there are plenty of user stories in most of our backlogs that are really management feature requests disguised as a user story. Transform your backlog so that the user stories that are supposedly there to help the users are given to a persona and suddenly it becomes much easier to interrogate feature requests against real users.
I can’t tell you how many user stories I’ve ended up throwing out because when I try to write the ‘so that I can…’ part of the user story it becomes impossible to make a compelling case because I have to make it gel with the agreed persona attributes.
I keep thinking – because I haven’t heard of people using this approach very much – that there must be some fatal flaw I’ve not thought of or come across yet… if so, perhaps you know what it is?
Making Agile & UX work together can certainly be tough, but this strikes me as one of those opportunities that Agile offers UXers to actually practice our craft all the more rigorously and visibly in our teams. I think I’ll be doing a lot more of it in the future.