Stop pushing features and start delighting users

1st February 2012
Simon Baker

Focus on outcomes not output. Stop pushing features and start delighting users.

User stories aren’t features. A user story is not the definition of the solution to a user’s problem. And yet I hear people have conversations about stories as though they were feature solutions to user problems. All they seem to be concerned with is getting a better understanding of the detail within the solution. The conversations don’t attempt to understand what the user is trying to do and why. There’s no attempt to validate that the problem actually is a problem for the user. There’s rarely exploration of other possible solutions.

In the worst cases, the story is treated as a specification. What happens when someone wants to extend the scope of a story with additional acceptance criteria? Say the story has already been started, but the additional functionality will improve the experience for the user. Perhaps it will make things simpler, more usable, more useful. Perhaps there is greater opportunity to delight the user. I see people get mad about this stuff. They insist any additional functionality is addressed in a new story even though it means the user would be worse off in the short term. That’s a system failure driving wrong behavior. That’s people pursuing velocity as a target; there’s more to done than the green dot. Or, in an old fashioned sense, that’s people wanting to avoid iteration slop. Whatever. It doesn’t best serve the user.

Try writing a user story to express what a user is trying to achieve, their goal, and why they need to achieve it. Rather than pushing a feature and maybe delivering the wrong thing, try to understand the user’s world, the quality of their experience, and how that experience could be different. Steer conversations to elicit new insights, explore hypotheses about what could be the right thing to deliver, and spark imagination about outcomes that might delight the user. Experiment, validate different ideas, help the simplest, most elegant solution to emerge that optimizes the prospects for delighting the user.

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