User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development

Mike Cohn (2004)
Review date: July, 2013

This book is divided into four parts and 21 chapters in total. The first part contains the chapters "An Overview", "Writing Stories", "User Role Modeling", "Gathering Stories", "Working with User Proxies", "Acceptance Testing User Stories", and "Guidelines for Good User Stories". After reading this part the reader has become familiar with the basic definition of a user story and how stories are used in a wider context.

The second part of the book is about estimating and planning and is a lot about velocity in general. The chapters here are: "Estimating User Stories", "Planning a Release", "Planning an Iteration", and "Measuring and Monitoring Velocity".

The third part covers the remaining topics, such as "What Stories are not", "Why User Stories?",  "A Catalog of Story Smells", "Using Stories with Scrum", and "Additional Topics".

The last part is one big example with many stories. 


To me, user stories have been something rather implicit for quite some years. They're mentioned casually in a Scrum training or book, and then you're supposed to know everything about them. Of course, you pick up a little of this and that about them as you work, but this book provides a safe shortcut. After all, this is the book on user stories.

The short version of the review is: this is a valuable book. It not only explains the small yet important details of user stories, it also places them in a larger context. Personally, I've learned about user stories from Scrum books, and while not the worst sources, they don't cover that much. Scrum books and trainings emphasize other things, and for good reasons.

Contrary to many other books, this book has a rather strong introduction. After reading the first chapter the reader knows the basics and may have found answers to the first and most common questions.  There are some good arguments and explanations in there to why the customer should write the story and why the story format is particularly appealing.

Then it goes on. In chapter two the acronym INVEST (Independent, Negotiable, Valuable to, Estimatable, Small, Testable) is drilled into, which gives a strong foundation together with chapter one. This is where the reader learns how to work with tech stories, spikes, and complex and compound stories.

For those who don't work too much with actual story creation, chapter three may be interesting. It contains some basics about user roles and some alternative techniques. I also liked chapter five a lot, which explains in great detail why various user proxies tend to fail.

The second part, which is more about how to work with stories than how to write them is a little more "bread and butter". It's well written, but many other books also cover estimation, velocity monitoring and pitfalls of story completion.

The last part of the book is also good. It makes everything more solid and catches the "miscellaneous" topics. I liked the clarifying discussion about how stories compare to use cases and why requirements shouldn't be written as "the system shall".

All-in-all, I recommend reading this book quite soon after learning about Scrum or any other agile methodology. Reading it early will save much time. Personally, I had to experiment and resort to several sources to pick up things that are neatly lined up in this book. I can't really find anything bad about his book; its message is solid and well underbuilt and it's easy to read. It shows that user stories are a freestanding concept, and not just part of some methodology.

Who should read this book

This is the book on user stories. Readers who work with a methodology that involves user stores should really read this one. It will save a lot of time.


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