What is a User Story and Why Does It Matter?

Mallory Merrill


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If you already have an idea for your app, then you might be wondering what to do next. Since you’re a non-technical founder you’re going to be handling a lot of the initial development processes yourself (don’t worry, none of these involve coding).

But, before we jump into it it’s important to make sure that you’ve done some basic validation on your app idea. There’s no point continuing the process if your idea doesn’t have some grounding in the marketplace.

To ensure your app idea caters to a need in the marketplace, spend some time talking with your ideal market, to see if your idea aligns with existing pain points and problems they’re looking to solve.

Once you have your “validated” idea, it’s time to map out the functionality of your app by creating user stories.

Below we dive into what a user story actually is, why it matters, and a basic process for creating your own user stories to better understand your app.

What Is a User Story?

user stories

Photo credit: Wilfred Iven

The user story describes what the customer is going to accomplish by using your product. A user story is a very short story, usually only a sentence long. They’re used to guide the development process and give you a better idea of how your app is going to function.

As a non-technical founder this can be incredibly valuable, as you’ll be able to play a role and offer assistance during the development process without actually coding.

These stories are written from the perspective of the user and are helpful in capturing the entire functionality of your app. Basically, you’re going to be describing how the user is going to interact with your app.

You’re going to be creating these stories that cover every single function and interaction they have with your interface. In the final section we cover how you’re going to be creating these stories, but if you’re still not sold on the process, then keep reading.

Why User Stories Are a Must


Photo credit: Startup Stock Photos

When you’re a non-technical co-founder you’re going to have a lot of things working against you. The process of creating user stories gives you an understanding that will help you aid and assist development teams. It will also give you a bird's-eye-view of your app, so you can operate with a greater understanding of how your app works.

Some founders are completely clueless about the development process. They have an idea, then they send it off to a team to develop. This can result in an app that doesn’t truly solve the problem you set out to solve. Or, you can end up getting a bloated app that barely functions.

User stories let you see every feature of your app and how each feature interacts with each other. You can actually see the functionality of your app through these stories. As an added benefit, this level of perspective will allow you to see any holes that might become potential roadblocks in the future.

User stories will help eliminate any unnecessary features that add development costs, and fix any holes before the coding process begins. You can’t afford to move forward without this crucial step.

Creating Your Own User Stories


Photo credit: Roman Drits

Below we’re going to cover a simple process that’ll have you writing your own user stories in no time. The user stories will help to dictate the design of the app, rather than forcing your app to work within an existing framework. This will greatly increase the chances of having a user interface your target market actually likes to use.

When writing your user stories don’t be afraid of details. Having an “epic” story that has a overview of your app is important, but not as important as nailing down every tiny aspect from the beginning.

Ready to write? Let’s jump in.

1. Create User Personas

Personas are fictional characters (or customer avatars) that include relevant interests, behaviors, attitudes, problems, and goals. Basically, they give you a way to visualize your customer and the result they’re trying to achieve while using your app.

Ask yourself: which aspect of this app will help to solve the problem this person has?

2. Use Simple Sentences

The following sentence format can be used to map out the features of your app:

As a [role], I can [specific feature] so that I can [action]

This can be taken in a lot of different directions as shown in the examples below.

As a [role], I want [this feature], because [reason]
As a [role], I can do [this action] with [this feature]
As a [role], I can use [this feature] to solve [this problem]

The basic structure above can lead to various user stories, like the following examples:

As a user, I can filter coats by gender, so I can buy a men’s winter coat.
As a CEO, I can filter emails via department, so I can easily notify my team of important updates.

3. Use Pen and Paper

It can be tempting to create your user stories on your computer. However, taking a break from your screen and actually writing them out can be very effective and help to see your project in an entirely new light.

It’s recommended to use note cards to create your user stories. Mostly because paper cards are cheap, they can be easily replaced, and can be easily re-arranged and tossed out, and they can help to facilitate collaboration with other team members.

Once you’ve mapped out your app by hand, cut any unnecessary features, and fixed any holes, you can use an online tool to create a digital version. But, this is usually only recommended after you’ve done it on paper and have a more solidified version of your app.

4. Create Different Scenarios

Each scenario you create will explain the exact actions the user is going to be doing while using your app. The total number of scenarios you have will depend upon the complexity of your app, and how many steps it takes for the user to reach their goal.

Usually, scenarios are written in the following format:

Scenario 1: Title of feature

Given [this context]

When [this event happens]

Then [this outcome occurs]

Take an example scenario below:

Scenario 1: The Login Screen

Given the login screen

When a user enters their username and password

They will be directed to the user dashboard.

Even a simple scenario like the one above will have additional scenarios, such as:

  • What happens when they’ve forgotten their password?

  • What will happen for a new user?

  • What will be presented for a returning user?

  • Will they be locked out after a certain number of failed login attempts?

5. Size User Stories with Story Points

Another critical step to creating a full-fledged user story, is sizing it's "bigness." To do this, we use an Agile technique called Planning Poker which is helpful for a number of reasons. Most notably, Planning Poker will help unify your team's understanding of work and of what's required to achieve completion of a piece of work. It can also help you better estimate future projects, and better manage project expectations.

Here's more information about how to play planning poker.


As you can see, creating user stories can actually be quite simple. But, it’s important to spend the necessary time on this step. The more developed and refined your user stories, the smoother the actual development process will progress.
What are your thoughts on creating user stories? Please share in the comments below.

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