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The User Story Format

July 8, 2024

User story format

The Product Backlog is a single source of requirements for the Scrum team. It is an ordered list of all of the work that needs to be done to add value to the Product. Each item on the Product Backlog is called a Product Backlog item.

While there are various ways to write or format items on the Product Backlog, one of the most popular and effective methods is writing them in the user story format. This practice, though beneficial, is not mandatory. Scrum teams may choose to adopt the user story format when it suits their needs and enhances their workflow.

The User Story Format

A user story is typically structured in a simple, yet powerful format:


As a [who], I want [what], so that [why].

This format helps to ensure that the focus remains on delivering value to the customer. By framing backlog items from the user's perspective, teams can better understand the end goal and the value it brings.

Importance of the Customer Perspective

User stories should always be crafted from the customer's viewpoint. This perspective is crucial because it aligns the team's efforts with the needs and expectations of the end-users.


For instance, a user story like:

  • As an online shopper, I want to be able to save my shopping cart, so that I can return and complete my purchase later.


This story clearly articulates a user's need and the value it brings, making it easier for the team to understand the purpose and prioritize accordingly.

Avoiding the Developer's Perspective

It's essential to avoid writing user stories from the perspective of developers or product owners. Such stories can lead to confusion about who benefits from the work and why it's important.

For example, a poorly constructed user story might read:

  • As a developer, I want to re-organize this code so that I can make it easier and faster to code in this module in the future.


This story focuses on the developer's experience rather than the end-user's needs. While maintaining code quality and efficiency is crucial, it should not be framed as a user story. Instead, technical improvements should be documented in a straightforward manner.

Addressing Technical Debt

When dealing with technical debt or internal improvements, it is often better to describe the work directly without trying to fit it into the user story format.


For example:

  • The code in Module XYZ should be reorganized to make it easier and faster to code in this module in the future.


This clear and concise statement allows the team to address necessary technical tasks without misrepresenting them as user-centered features.


When to Use User Stories

Scrum teams should assess when it makes sense to use the user story format. User stories are particularly useful for features and functionalities that directly impact the end-user experience. However, for backend improvements, infrastructure changes, or addressing technical debt, a different format might be more appropriate.


Not enough detail? Add Acceptance Criteria!

For many teams, just the information contained in the user story format is not enough to code from. Most teams using user stories supplement the user story with additional information in the form of acceptance criteria. Acceptance criteria can be written as a series of bullet points as a list, or in whatever format is most useful for the Scrum team. Many teams choose to write the acceptance criteria as a list of requirements that are associated with the story. Some teams use the Gherkin format (Given, x, then y).



Writing Product Backlog items in the user story format is a complementary practice that can greatly enhance a Scrum team's ability to focus on delivering customer value. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Teams should judiciously decide when to employ user stories and when to opt for a more straightforward description of technical tasks. By maintaining a customer-centric approach and clearly distinguishing between user-focused features and technical needs, teams can ensure a well-organized and effective Product Backlog.

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