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  • Writer's pictureSimon Rojas

Understanding the emotional impact user stories can have on your engineering team

Product owners are the liaisons between the business and the engineering team. They are responsible for distilling business needs into product requirements. In agile settings, the user story is often the medium that is used to communicate the requirements and acceptance criteria to the engineering team. In turn, the engineers consume the user stories to understand what they need to implement. Over the course of a project the engineers will consume a steady diet of these stories and like food or entertainment or anything else we consume, the cost and quality of what we consume has a significant impact on the satisfaction that we derive from it. As such like anything that we consume, user stories can also please or dissatisfy the consumer depending on the quality of the user story.

In my experience one of the most common ways that the product owner begins to lose the trust of the team is by producing low quality user stories. A low quality user story can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, it can be too vague or it can be too long and detailed. It can also be incomplete because it is missing certain scenarios or it may lack corresponding artifacts such as UX designs. Engineers that consume these types of stories will begin to become demotivated as they realize that they do not have the requisite information to fully understand the work that needs to be done. They then have to spend extra energy to figure out how to improve the content of the stories to get it to a point where they have appropriate information. Implementation that proceeds with low quality stories will inevitably lead to defects which will exacerbate the distaste with the user stories and the team’s product owner.

On the flipside, a high quality user story is a delight to engineers because it makes it easy to digest and understand the work that needs to be done. This plays a large role in the overall satisfaction in the relationship between engineers and the product owners. As a result, I believe that producing high quality user stories is a key component of successful software development not just because it provides the engineering team with clear directions, but also because of the emotional impact it has on them as well. As a result, this has to be a core skill of every product owner or anyone that is producing stories. If you are interested in learning more about how to ensure that you or your team produce high quality stories please do not hesitate to reach out.

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