How to Capture, Write, Prioritize, Rightsize, and Flesh Out User Stories with Defined Acceptance Tests as Given-When-Then (GWT) Scenarios

User Stories: A Collaboration Tool for Business and IT

How to Capture, Write, Prioritize, Rightsize, and Flesh Out User Stories including Acceptance Tests as Given-When-Then (GWT) Scenarios

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Author: Tom and Angela Hathaway
Pages: 213 (paperback edition)
Format: Paperback and eBook
Publication Date: July 26, 2021

Also available as self-paced course and live online (mentoring or virtual classroom)

What is this book about?

User Stories Demystified and Distilled
for the User Community and Technical Teams

Well-written, insightful User Stories are the foundation business and technical teams need to develop and deliver digital solutions that support your business goals and delight your users. You can be the hero that moves your company closer to the holy grail that is “business agility”.

Users AND Agile Teams Both Need to Know How to Work with User Stories

Applying the User Story paradigm correctly will greatly improve your career chances.

  • As a user or Subject Matter Expert, you can express your needs in the format that developers understand and need.
  • As a developer, you can deliver digital solutions that will delight your customers.
  • As a Product Owner, Business Analyst, or User Experience Designer, you get a clear understanding of all perspectives to ensure that the developers deliver what the organization needs.
  • As a Tester, you can prove that the product works as intended.

User Stories are currently the best tool for communicating user requirements and needs. To develop outstanding digital solutions that delight your users, a mutual understanding among all stakeholders is critical.

Why Should You Read This Book?

According to a recent survey, 69% of today’s top employers list effective collaboration as a required skill. User Stories are the primary communication mode between the business and those who develop and deliver the digital solutions that are the soul of most organizations today.

You will receive help from this book if you:

  • Want to get digital solutions that meet your needs.
  • Want to make sure you understand what the business community is requesting.
  • Want to reduce the friction between developers and the business community.
  • Are invested in delivering digital solutions that provide business value.
  • Want to learn simple techniques that will serve you well when you are in the hot seat.

This User Story Bootcamp in a Book Can Open New Doors for You:

  • If you feel overwhelmed trying to explain what you expect a proposed digital solution to deliver, this book is for you!
  • If you are a developer frustrated trying to understand what the business community really wants, this book gives you solutions!
  • If you are anxious about attending a User Story Workshop, you really should read this book!

By the way, if you are a Product Owner, Business Analyst, Subject Matter Expert, User Experience (UX) Designer, or Developer working with people to get their “real” User Stories, you definitely need this book!

Find out how to discover, write, right-size, and flesh-out User Stories. But the proof is in the pudding. That’s why we also explore how to design Acceptance Criteria and Tests. They are best to evaluate whether the delivered solution correctly implements the User Story.

What You Will Learn in a Nutshell

Supercharge User Story Collaboration

This book gives all members of the business and developer community a common base for supercharging effective communication.

After reading this book you can:


  • Seed and replenish a Product Backlog by writing User Stories that focus on the business value without dictating technical solutions.


  • Understand the power of the 3 C’s of a User Story – The Card, the Conversation, the Criteria (or Confirmation).

  • Reduce time to deliver software by giving developers well-formed, actionable User Stories answering the WHO, WHAT, and WHY of a business need.

  • Translate business needs into well-structured User Stories that follow the INVEST (Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable) guidelines.

  • Identify User Story contributors using User Role Modeling, Persona Development, and Stakeholder Identification techniques.

  • Synchronize the vision of the business and the development team with clearly defined Acceptance Criteria that clarify the intent of the User Story.

  • Minimize miscommunication and misunderstandings between the business and the developer communities by drilling-down User Stories at the RIGHT time and to the RIGHT level of detail.

  • Learn 6 techniques to reduce ambiguity, save time in 3-Amigos Conversations, and allow your Agile Team to deliver solutions that delight end-users.

  • Save time and resources by leveraging Lean principles of waste reduction, last responsible moment, and built-in quality to your User Stories.

  • Ensure that your User Stories are at the right level of detail for prioritization and splitting.

  • Apply 8 ways to split User Stories, Epics, and Features in Preparation for Imminent Sprints or Releases.

  • Develop business-focused acceptance tests that prove that the solution delivers desired and defined features and functions.

Learn how to become the User Story Expert in your organization.

Book Overview

Collaborative User Stories Include Writing, Communicating, and Validating

To deliver working software that the business community needs and wants, developers must understand those needs. Fundamentally, they really must know:

  • Who needs something (the role)?
  • What do they need (to do or to know with potential qualifiers)?
  • Why do they need it (the business value)?

In recent years, the User Story has emerged as the most common tool for answering those critical questions simply, quickly, and efficiently.

Although, many recommend the powerful “As a …, I want …, so that …” structure, the User Story is much too important to be limited by artificial constraints. Its strength is its potential for leveraging the software development process to achieve the competitive advantage that is business agility.

Chapter Overviews

You will learn how to determine the best structure for your User Stories based on the needs of all audiences while ensuring delivery of business value to the author of each User Story.

Well-Structured User Stories

You will understand the core components of a well-structured User Story and defend the purpose of each. In addition, I explain why defining business needs in User Story format is a significant factor in achieving effective communication between the business user community and developers.

User Role Modeling, Stakeholder Identification, and Persona Development

To ensure that business community needs and wants are met, I present techniques for capturing User Stories from the right mix of end users and other stakeholders. You can only get a reasonably complete set of User Stories by identifying Roles, Personas, and Stakeholders that your digital solution must support.

User Role Modeling, Stakeholder Identification, and Persona Development are three approaches that I have found most helpful in different situations. The role gives developers the power to clarify the intent behind the User Story which greatly increases the chances that the business community gets the solution it needs.

The INVEST Model 

How to write a User Story is a simple, easy-to-learn skill. I will introduce and explain several ideas on how to make sure your User Stories are GREAT. Following the INVEST model will help make your User Stories Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, and Testable.

Those six criteria help you avoid a lot of problems, but each criterion can be challenging to achieve. For that reason, I introduce 3 methods that you can use to implement the INVEST model and add significant value to your User Stories.

Reducing Ambiguity at the Right Time

As powerful as User Stories are, they are still susceptible to misunderstanding. You will learn 6 specific methods for identifying and removing the twin causes of miscommunication, namely ambiguity and subjectivity. In line with the Lean principle of waste reduction, you should wait until the last responsible moment to ensure that your User Stories are clear, concise, relevant, and at the right level of detail for developers.

Acceptance Criteria or Conditions of Satisfaction (COS)

The most important tool to reduce misunderstandings and avoid any ambiguity are Acceptance Criteria, aka Conditions of Satisfaction. They provide details of functionality that help the developers understand the User Story the way the originator intended.

You will learn how to use simple checklists, Business Rules, conditional statements, Functional Features, and Given-When-Then Statements to express Acceptance Criteria. These form the basis for the essential step of Acceptance Testing which is covered later in the course.

User Story Writing and Analysis – What to Do When

Lean and Agile do not change the need for sound analysis and decision making. What they change is the timing of those activities. You will learn what to do and when to do it given that the User Stories live and evolve throughout the process of delivering software that wows its users. You defend the need for Product Backlogs, Feasibility Analysis, and User Story Prioritization to ensure the evolution of the product delivers business value at every step of the way.

Rightsizing User Stories

What the business community considers a simple request can be unbelievably complex for developers. Learn when and how to right-size your User Stories to ensure effective communication from start to finish. The meaning of the INVEST criteria require constant adjustment as the product evolves. You will learn 8 simple methods for splitting User Stories while ensuring the original intent is honored.

From Acceptance Criteria to Acceptance Tests

Finally, confirm that the delivered digital solution delivers what your organization needs to thrive. You will learn how to translate User Story Acceptance Criteria in any format to Acceptance Tests using Gherkin’s GIVEN-WHEN-THEN Scenarios. This revolutionary language facilitates manual testing and gives you the potential for using automated testing tools.

So, what are you waiting for? Buy the book now to move toward becoming the User Story Expert in your organization.

Who will benefit from reading this book?

  • Product Owners
  • Product Team Members
  • Product and Project Managers
  • Business Analysts
  • Requirements Engineers
  • Business- and Customer-side Team Members
  • Agile Team Members
  • Subject Matter Experts (SME)
  • Systems Analysts and Designers
  • Developers
  • Quality Assurance Specialists/Testing Team Members
  • AND anyone involved for defining digital solutions for the future.

Table of Contents

I. User Stories Rationale and Structure

  • Traditional IT Requirements
  • The User Story Paradigm: Card, Conversation, and Criteria
  • KwikKwiz: Confirm Your Understanding of the User Story Paradigm
  • Three Questions Every User Story Must Answer
    • The Role Tells WHO Needs the Story
    • The Outcome or Action Explains WHAT the User Needs
    • The Value Reveals WHY the Business Needs the Outcome
    • KwikKwiz: Evaluate User Stories for Completeness
  • Role-Focused vs. Goal-Focused User Stories
  • User Stories Are Not Just for End Users
  • Assignment: Identify Potential User Stories from a Vision Statement

II. Identifying User Story Persona, Potential User Roles, and Stakeholders

  • Three Approaches to Identify User Story Roles
  • User Role Modeling is a 3-Step Process
  • Overview of Persona Development
  • Stakeholder Identification Discovers User Roles for Internal Applications
  • KwikKwiz: The Importance of Roles in User Stories and 3 Ways of Finding Candidates

III. How to Write User Stories for the Product Backlog

  • INVEST in Your User Stories for Effective Communication
    • INDEPENDENT User Stories Expedite Delivery of Working Software
    • NEGOTIABLE User Stories Trigger Collaborative Conversations
    • VALUABLE User Stories Are Easier to Prioritize
    • ESTIMABLE User Stories Make Planning More Reliable
    • SMALL User Stories Are Easier to Manage
    • TESTABLE User Stories are Verifiable
  • KwikKwiz: Assessing Your User Story’s INVEST-ability
  • How-to Implement the INVEST model
    • WHAT Not HOW! Keep Technology and Solutions Out of User Stories
    • Valid User Stories Are within the Product Vision or Project Charter
    • KwikKwiz: Simple Guidelines for INVEST

IV. Remove Ambiguity in Your User Stories at the Last Responsible Moment

  • Ambiguity and Subjectivity Feed Misunderstanding and Waste Time
  • Avoid Pronouns, Generic Verbs, and Acronyms
  • Add Context to Clarify Ambiguous User Stories
  • KwikKwiz: Resolving Ambiguity and Subjectivity in User Stories
  • Acceptance Criteria Reduce Ambiguity
  • How to Write Effective Acceptance Criteria
    • Checklists and Business Rules
    • Functional Drill-down / Feature Decomp
  • Discover Ambiguity and Subjectivity Early with Self-Reviews
  • Peer Reviews Clarify the Most Challenging User Stories
  • Example: Improving a User Story with Peer Reviews and Rewrites
  • KwikKwiz: Selecting the Right Technique for Reducing Ambiguity and Subjectivity
  • Assignment: Improve Your User Stories

V. Select User Stories for the Imminent Iteration, Release, or Sprint

  • Evolution of User Stories throughout a Lean Lifecycle
  • Product Backlogs and Other User Story Repositories
  • Before Prioritizing: Prune Your User Stories
  • KwikKwiz: Check Your Understanding
  • MoSCoW Prioritization
  • Prioritize User Stories Using the Kano Method
  • Prioritize User Stories by Current / Future / Needs / Wants
  • KwikKwiz: Testing Your Knowledge of Story Prioritization Techniques

VI. Simplify User Stories with Splitting and Rightsizing

  • Epics, Features, and User Stories Are Candidates for Splitting
  • User Story Splitting Is Essential for the INVEST Model
  • Split Stories to Focus on a Single Thought
  • Split Stories to Deliver Incremental Business Value
  • KwikKwiz: The Rationale for User Story Splitting
  • Split Stories by Acceptance Criteria
  • Split Stories by User Roles
  • Split Stories by Data
  • Split Stories by Business Rules
  • Split Stories by Sequence of Events
  • Split Stories by Workflow
  • KwikKwiz: User Story Splitting from the Business Perspective

VII. From Acceptance Criteria to Acceptance Tests

  • Gherkin GIVEN-WHEN-THEN Scenarios Explained
  • Background Statements Save Time
  • Scenario Outlines and Examples to Test Different Data Values
  • KwikKwiz: Understanding Scenarios, Backgrounds, and Outlines
  • Simple Scenario Identification
  • Get GWT Scenarios from the WHO, WHAT, WHY in the User Stories
  • Find GWT Scenarios Using Business Rules
  • Assignment: Develop Scenarios to Test Business Rules
  • About the Authors

User Stories: A Collaboration Tool for Business and IT

How to Capture, Write, Prioritize, Rightsize and Split User Stories Plus Acceptance Tests with Given-When-Then Scenarios

Design, Build, Publish, and Monitor Chatbots Using the Drag-and-Drop Landbot Platform

Learn how to build a Landbot chatbot with conversational flow design

Learn Lean / Agile Business Analysis Techniques

Book - Lean Agile User Stories and Features

Self-paced Course – Agile Business Analysis: Getting and Writing Lean Requirements

Lean Business Analysis for Lean Requirements: Techniques for Discovering and Writing User Stories, Acceptance Tests, Scenarios and Examples

Lean Business Use Cases in an Agile World

Lean Use Cases to identify and write Use Case models and diagrams

Chatting with Humans: User Experience Design (UX) for Chatbots

Simple Conversational Design and Science-based Chatbot Copy that Engages People

Tom and Angela’s Story

Like all good IT stories, theirs started on a project many years ago. Tom was the super techie, Angela the super SME (Product Owner in today’s lingo). They fought their way through the 3-year development of a new policy maintenance system for an insurance company.

They vehemently disagreed on many aspects, but in the process discovered a fundamental truth about IT projects. The business community (Angela) should decide on the business needs or user experience while the technical team’s (Tom)’s job was to make the technology deliver what the users needed. Talk about a revolutionary idea! All that was left was learning how to communicate with each other without bloodshed to make the project a resounding success. Mission accomplished.

They decided this epiphany was so important that the world needed to know about it. As a result, they made it their mission (and their passion) to share this ground-breaking concept with the rest of the world.

To achieve that lofty goal, they married and began the mission that still defines their life. After over 30 years of living and working together 24x7x365, they are still wildly enthusiastic about helping the victims of technology learn how to ask for and get the IT solutions they need to do their jobs better. More importantly, they are more enthusiastically in love with each other than ever before!

How they Can Help

Tom and Angela love to share their experience, knowledge, and expertise with the world. They have taught thousands of students in face-to-face training, published numerous business analysis and user experience how-to books on Amazon.com, authored many courses on Udemy.com with over 50K students, and enriched the global community with close to 2 million views on their YouTube channel.

Their company, BA-EXPERTS, focuses exclusively on business and user experience analysis for anyone wearing the BA hat™. Business needs analysis for digital solutions has become a critical skill for most business professionals regardless of job title (Business Analyst, UX Designer, Product Owner, SME, Project Manager, etc.). In today’s world, knowing how to analyze and define digital solutions from the user perspective will open many doors.

*****

A big thanks to all our loyal readers and students.
Tom and Angela Hathaway

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