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Stories, Epics and Themes!


I wrote an article awhile back covering writing good user stories... How to write good user stories but one of the common questions I'm repeatedly asked when coaching new teams is when does a story become a story? what's an epic? how do I know I've got enough details yet? What is just enough?

A very common format of a user story is "As a {type of user/job tittle} I {would like/need/want/} to {perform a function} so that {reason}

A small user story is one that is well understood and can usually be implemented within a sprint. (developed, tested, documented and releasable)

As user stories get larger they are often called 'Epics' or large stories!

There is no real definition of where a user story becomes so big it's classed as an epic! it's a judgement call!

Epics are typically broad in scope and often less well understood than a user story, they will typically take longer than a sprint to implement. Usually an epic will be further refined and broken down into smaller user stories.

Themes are a way of grouping user stories together... I might have a theme called KPI management reports - Within that theme a number of user stories (or perhaps epics) will be grouped together describing the reports.

These are just terms, names used in Agile to describe types of documents.... The important part is the conversations that occur to create these user stories.

I find that user stories work best when you run story writing work shops - Ideally these should consist of developers, business analysts, project managers and the actual users of the system!

I've actually seen companies (and self declared Scrum masters) who refuse to let developers be part of the story writing procedure!! Having developers involved is a brilliant way of breaking down barriers, increasing understanding... and finding that sweet spot of 'Just enough'!

User stories work best when there developed as a conversation with the users and developers talking through functions together and writing down the user stories together  - by writing these stories as a team you'll gain better understanding, ask better questions and find issues earlier!

Thanks for reading

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Christian MilesUser stories