Planning a website with User Stories

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Designing the functionality of a website sometimes feels like taking a stab in the dark and hoping for the best. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Like many things, it is often helpful to see it through the eyes of the people using the system. Is he/she a potential customer or someone who just stumbled onto your site? Are they there to learn more about you or are they ready to buy, searching for a deal?

In software development/product management, these specific scenarios are called user stories. This allows the team to focus on creating what delivers actual benefits/value to the person using a system. Designing websites are no different. Well-defined user stories guide the entire process, creating clarity for everyone involved. The end goal we are looking at typically takes the following format:

As a [persona], I want to [task] so that [benefit].

So let’s get started.

1. Who are the users?

This one is simple and easy enough to define and most of the time can be done intuitively. Being specific often helps. So instead of using ‘Potential Customer’ for your pet supplies website, ‘first-time puppy owner’ would be more helpful. You should create several of these.

2. From epics to scenarios

Once you know who you are designing for, it becomes much easier to create stories. Stories come in many forms and what we have found useful is to start with the big epic stories and then break them down into specific scenes. So in our pet supplies example, the first epic could be

‘As a first-time puppy owner, I want to purchase supplies for my puppy online so I save time ‘.

From there, you decide that a key barrier to purchase as a new dog owner is that they feel that they don’t know enough about dog food and so spend lots of time online researching and by keeping them in your site, you are better able to capture the sale later. So we can break down the above into the more specific story:

‘As a first-time puppy owner, I want to learn more about dog food so I can decide whether to purchase it’

Better, but can still be improved by further refining the user story into:

‘As a first-time puppy owner, I want to read user reviews about dog food so I can decide whether to purchase it’

The above is now clear enough – the site needs a system that allows users to post reviews. Of course, this can be refined further down the line when the need arises, but at the beginning, this is sufficient.

3. Plan for success

For each story, you will then need to spell out what an objective measure of success. That way, there is a firm end point for the story, and you will know when done so that you can move on to the next task.

4. Prioritize value

Often times, there will be dozens, if not hundreds of user stories to plan for. The key at this phase of planning is to do an 80/20 analysis and figure out which stories will give you the most bang for your efforts so you can work on what is the most effective before moving on to the next.

5. Execute, then course correct

Once this is done, work on the highest priority user story, and once that is done, you can make course corrections. Are any stories now irrelevant or can be done better? Update the User story plan.

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