How to Write Effective User Stories

The ability to write effective user stories enables teams to delivering the right products fast. This post provides several checklists for writing effective user stories and features the perfection game, a technique for giving feedback and providing improvement suggestions to improve your user stories.

Effective user stories express the needs of users and support effective communication and collaboration between product owners and agile teams.  They are prompts for communication which help to understand users and develop the right products.

Teams can use a Definition of Ready (DoR) to check their user stories. A DoR states the criteria that a user story should meet be accepted into an iteration. You can use the checklists below to define your own DoR.

I use user story checklists when I’m coaching teams and in my workshops for product management and writing effective user stories.


The INVEST checklist comes from  INVEST in Good Stories by Bill Wake. It’s an acronym with six important quality characteristics for user stories:

A good user story is:
I – Independent
N – Negotiable
V – Valuable
E – Estimable
S – Small
T – Testable

Three Big Questions

The User Story Checklist by AgileKRC is for use on ‘mature’ user stories which have undergone some discussion. These three big questions can be used to check if a user story is ready:

  1. Immediately after reading the User Story is it obvious what the User Story is about?
  2. Does each element of the User Story add significant value and therefore avoids duplication or partial duplication of other elements?
  3. Is it totally 100% free of ‘the how’/the solution?

Meaningful Agile User Stories

The below principles of good agile stories come from the post How To Write Meaningful Agile User Stories by Isaac Sacolick

  • Key stakeholders must achieve a shared understanding of the deliverable
  • Stories should convey the opportunity, issue, need or value that it will deliver
  • The story title should be short and convey the deliverable without reading the details
  • Good stories deliver an atomic increment in business
  • Stories need to be completed in a Sprint
  • Good stories have sufficient acceptance criteria
  • The team should be able to estimate the story

Perfection Game

The perfection game is a general purpose feedback technique. I use it in agile retrospectives and also when I coach or train teams in writing effective user stories:

To get feedback on a User Story, ask the following questions:

  • I rate the User Story … on a scale from 1-10
  • What I liked about it …
  • To make it perfect …

Rate the User Story on a scale from 1 to 10, based on how much value you think you can add yourselves by improving it. For example, when there is nothing you can think of to improve, rate it a 10. If you think you can make it twice as good / valuable, give it a 5.

Answer “what I liked about it …” by mentioning the qualities and strengths that the User Story has, and answer “to make it perfect …” with concrete things that you would do to improve the User Story to make it perfect (a 10).

Recommended books

Here are some books that can inspire you to write effective user stories:

Which checklists do you use to write effective user stories?

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Adil

    Very informative post and I have got good sight from the points you mentioned, I have also written a few point on my blog that are based on my experience of writing user stories and making things easy for the delivery team in IT projects, please have a look

    1. Ben Linders

      Thanks Adil for sharing your post with my readers.

      I do question the level of detail in user stories. I prefer them to be “prompts for communication”, where it’s often better to use richer communication techniques such as face 2 face communication of chats for explaining the details over documenting them in the user story.

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