GuidesProduct developmentWhat are user stories?

What are user stories?

Last updated

23 March 2023

Reviewed by

Miroslav Damyanov

User stories have become essential tools in software development, helping developers define and prioritize their requirements and build products that better meet customer needs.

But what exactly are user stories, and how are they used in software development?

Let’s take a closer look at user stories, including the key elements they are formed of, their benefits, and how you can create your own.

What are user stories?

A user story is a simple, concise description of a feature or functionality that a user wants or needs in a software project. It is used to capture and communicate a project’s requirements and provides a way to focus development on the user’s perspective and goals.

User stories are used in agile development methodologies as a way to prioritize and organize work and ensure that the final product meets the needs of its intended audience. They are also used to improve collaboration between stakeholders, ensuring that everyone clearly understands the project’s requirements.

The basic concepts of user stories

Teams must understand the basic concepts of user stories. This will enable them to create effective, well-defined, and focused stories that are aligned with users’ needs and goals.

At its core, a user story consists of the following items:

  • User—the user story must start with an idea of who the user is

  • Goal—it must have a specific goal in mind to be focused and actionable

  • Benefit—understanding how the story benefits the user helps with prioritization

  • Criteria—describes the conditions that must be met for the user story to be considered complete

  • Priority—the user stories that benefit the user most are usually assigned higher priority

  • Tasks—for all but the most basic user stories, the work is broken into multiple tasks that can be easily tracked and completed

Skills needed to create good user stories

Creating good user stories requires practice and several important skills.

When deciding who will write the user stories for your team, look for someone with the following characteristics:


Creating a user story requires you to put yourself into the user’s mind. When someone can accurately understand the user’s needs and requirements, they will be better positioned to create user stories.

Analytical thinking

User stories should be well-defined and broken down into logical tasks to make them as actionable as possible. The ability to think analytically helps ensure a smooth workflow.


Being creative also helps when writing a user story. Requirements are not always easy to solve. The ability to think creatively helps in discovering innovative solutions to these kinds of stories.


Many stakeholders, including developers, product owners, and designers, need to be kept in the loop when creating user stories. The person writing them should be able to communicate clearly with each of these stakeholders.

Technical knowledge

User stories must be feasible and realistic to implement. This means the person writing them needs to have at least a basic understanding of the technical skills that will be required.

How to write user stories

Follow a structured approach when creating a user story. This helps ensure that all the key elements we’ve discussed are included and that each associated task is plausible and appropriately sized for the sprints they will be a part of.

The seven-step process below is an example of a structured approach.

1. Identify the user

Start by defining the user or group of users that will benefit from the feature you are developing. This will help you understand their needs and priorities.

2. Define the goal

Clearly state the user story’s goal or objective. What problem is the user trying to solve? What need are they trying to fulfill?

3. Write the story

Use simple, conversational language to describe the user’s goal in the form of a story.

A typical user story format is: “As a [user], I want [goal], so that [reason].”

4. Define acceptance criteria

Identify the specific criteria that need to be met before the user story can be considered complete. This helps ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding what needs to be done and what is expected.

5. Prioritize

Prioritize the user story based on its importance and urgency relative to other stories. This will help determine the order in which stories are worked on.

6. Refine and clarify

Review the user story to ensure that it’s well-defined, clear, and easy to understand. This may involve refining the story, breaking it down into smaller tasks, or adding more detail to the acceptance criteria.

7. Review and discuss

Share the user story with stakeholders, including developers, product owners, and designers, to get feedback and make any necessary adjustments.

The writing process is iterative, and you might need to repeat some or all of the steps to ensure that the story is complete and accurately reflects the user’s needs. Be sure to stay on each step until it’s complete. You can revisit steps as much as you need as you begin to refine and review the story.

Organizing user stories with a story map

A story map is a visual representation of user stories. The map will help detail the order in which stories should be worked on.

Creating a map for a user story once it has been written can help organize your team as they work toward completing it.

The story map helps map out the sprints required to complete the story when used as part of the agile development workflow.

When creating your story map, be sure to include the following elements:


High-level stories that represent major goals or objectives for a project or product.

User personas

Representations of different types of users who will interact with the product. They help to provide context and prioritize stories based on the needs and goals of specific user groups.

User journeys

A list of steps a user will take to complete a specific task or achieve a goal. These also help identify the stories needed to support each step.


Short, simple descriptions of features or functionality that a user wants or needs. They are organized based on the order in which they will be completed and their priority.

Acceptance criteria

These are the specific, quantifiable conditions that must be met for a story to be considered complete.

Sprint backlog

A prioritized list of stories that will be worked on in the next sprint.

Common pitfalls

Below are some common mistakes people make when creating user stories. Keep these pitfalls in mind and try to avoid them with your own user stories.

Vague or overly complex stories

Stories that are too vague or complex can be difficult to understand and implement, leading to confusion and the need for reworking.

Lack of focus on user needs

If user stories don’t focus on the user’s needs and goals, they may miss the mark and result in features that are not useful or usable.

Incomplete acceptance criteria

It can be difficult to determine when a user story is complete when acceptance criteria are missing or not well-defined. This can lead to scope creep or missed requirements.

Over-reliance on templates

Using templates or formulas to write user stories can lead to a rigid design and may not accurately capture each user’s unique needs and goals.

Lack of stakeholder input

If relevant stakeholders are not involved in the user story creation process, their missing feedback can result in a suboptimal solution.

Failure to prioritize

User stories must be prioritized based on their importance and urgency. Otherwise, teams may waste time and resources on lower-priority stories or miss critical work.

Neglecting iteration

Delays and slow progression can occur when user stories are not broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces and delivered in stages as part of an iterative development process.

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