User Stories are Experiments

Mini-experiments are a key aspect of the Lean Startup movement, so I like the idea of user stories as experiments.

Product owner experiments

In his article Your story cards are limiting your agility, Joseph Flahiff suggests that user stories created by the product owner are experiments. So Flahiff rejects the classic format of user stories: “As a__(customer)___ I would like __(Feature or function)___ So that __(value)____”.

User Story - Classic Format

User Story – Classic Format

The user story format that Flahiff suggests for a Product Owner is: “We (or I) believe that __(Customer)___ would like __(Feature or function)___ So that __(Value)____ And to validate this we will ­___(hypothesis test)________”.

User Story - Experiment

User Story – Experiment

These user stories make the assumptions, and testing of assumptions, explicit. It poses the question “Should we build this feature?”

“Real” person user story – um, perhaps not

Flahiff goes on to talk about “real” people and this is where I get more uncomfortable. Flahiff says:

Storycards are lies, unless they are directly created BY a customer, an actual customer, not by a product owner/customer proxy. If stories are created by a product owner they are hypotheses, well educated guesses as to what they think the customer wants.

For real people (i.e. customers) Flahiff suggests a variation on the classic format: “I am __(real person’s name)__ and I would like __(Feature or function)___ So that __(value)____”

User Story - Real User

User Story – Real User

Flahiff suggests using different coloured cards to distinguish the two types of user story he proposes – “real” person and product owner.

User stories as experiments

Although I like the idea of user stories as experiments, I don’t believe just because a customer asks for something that it has more merit than a feature suggested by the product owner. In fact I generally trust a product manager/owner’s judgement more than that of a user.

Whatever the source of the requirement the user story would still need to be validated by general user base. So, for me, they are all hypothesises. Experiments. Whether or not you use the experiment format for the user stories is up to you.


Flahiff, J. (2013, 19 Sep). Your story cards are limiting your agility. InfoQ.