How to Groom User Stories

User stories start their lives as an unruly mess.  They often have just the briefest of descriptions, no direction and no vision for what they will be when they mature and reach the status of Done.

The skilled product owner or agilist responsible for grooming these user stories takes this rough form and elaborates it and then grooms it to a viable candidate for consideration in future sprints.

This takes communication with stakeholders.  Asking them questions.  Getting clarification.  Ferreting out important details so the User Story can be successfully stated in the “As a <type of user> I want <specified functionality> so that <realized benefit>” format.

Their job isn’t finished yet though.  They next must insure that the acceptance criteria of the user story is defined.

  • Performance must exceed x threshold.
  • Capability y must allow for z exceptions
  • Security must incorporate principle Q
  • Etc.

And then….

Just when you think you’ve got everything covered, in comes the development team with their parade of questions.

  • Just what is capability y?
  • Threshold x requires technology b, is that acceptable?
  • Would security principle K be a valid substitute for Q?

On and on.  But, to have any chance of successful estimation these questions have to be answered.  Once they are?  The user story is ready to be considered a candidate for a future sprint.

Now all that’s left is for the stakeholders to determine that it is the next high value item that should be addressed and into the Sprint Backlog it goes.

Whew!

Question: How thorough is your grooming process?  Leave your answers in the comments below.

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