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User Story Workshop

18F is a digital services delivery team embedded within the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). 18F collaborates with federal and state agencies to improve how government uses technology to serve the public. At the project kick-off meeting I identified the need to generate user stories early in the project schedule. This would give the development team a backlog of user stories to work with in Sprint 1. My solution: organize and lead a User Story Workshop with DHSS stakeholders.

The goal of the workshop was to mentor stakeholders in the user-story process, and provide the product owner and development team with backlog material to work with in Sprint 1. Within days, we had convened a workshop attended by key system users and subject matter experts. Attendees would learn to write feature descriptions from the perspective of the CIS user.

Workshop Day

Our DHSS client had no experience with the Agile development framework. Therefore I sought to create an inviting, non-intimidating environment in which to introduce the basic concepts.  

We relied on our client primary point-of-contact to identify workshop participants. We recruited fourteen participants to participate in person. A few more participated via remote video connection.

On Workshop Day, we stocked the client’s large conference room with multiple carafes of coffee, juice, and water, as well as platters of bagels, pastries and assorted fruit. We provided plenty of sticky notes and fine-point Sharpies, both in multiple colors. Participants were free to select their preferred color combinations.

We started the workshop at 10:00 am with introductions all around. I provided a brief summary of the user story process and format, and the important role of story-telling in human communications. I described how their stories would describe in simple terms the tasks they engage in every day. I emphasized that there are no “wrong” stories, and explained the role of the product owner in synthesizing larger “epic” stories down into actionable increments that a developer could complete in a single iteration.

We scheduled a four-hour window for the workshop, with ample breaks. We continually posted stories to the board for review and discussion. By 2:00 pm the group had documented approximately 175 viable user stories. From this total, we distilled about sixty actionable user stories into the backlog, for team discussion and development during Sprint 1.

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