Free Downloadable User Story Templates

Smartsheet Contributor Kate Eby

August 22, 2018

User stories are a critical part of Agile software development, and you can use templates to help guide the development of your product’s functionality. In this article, you’ll learn about the different kinds of user story templates and find free, downloadable templates.

 

Free User Story Templates

The following templates can be used for a variety of purposes. You can write, map, and manage user story backlogs, write epics, and more. Many of these templates are similar, so choose based on personal preference or according to your company’s particular process (and therefore, format).

Product and project managers can use the backlog template to keep track of user stories, and they can use the other templates to create or map user stories. Other team members can employ the user story or epic templates to create user stories.

User Story Template

 

Agile User Story Template

User stories help product teams stay focused on user needs and manage their work when developing functionality. Project and product managers can use this template to manage the work generated from the user. All other team members can use it to write user stories.

 

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User Story Backlog Template

 

sprint backlog template

Use this template to manage your user story backlog during product development iterations.

The backlog is created during sprint planning, when a team will select the top items in the product backlog and then add them to their sprints. The backlog includes all the work pushed into the development phase and is a to-do list of items that must be completed in the current iteration. This list should be final (i.e., tasks should not be added or removed at this point).

The template has columns for backlog items, story points, responsibility, status, and original estimates. In the columns that represent days 1-5, product or project managers can add the number of extra development hours required each day for a task. The total amount of extra development hours for each day for all tasks in the sprint is displayed in the total row. The burndown chart then represents this outstanding work.

 

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User Story Mapping Template

 

User Story Map Template

This is a template that you can complete or recreate by using Post-it Notes or index cards. The number of boxes may vary based on the activities that take place while using a particular system.

Project and product managers can use this template to sequence the order of activities a user experiences as they utilize a system. The y-axis represents the increasing sophistication of the functionality being mapped; the x-axis contains the sequential order of activities that users experience as they utilize a system. The first row contains the most basic functionality, and subsequent rows become more complex.

 

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Epic Template

 

 

Agile User Epic Template

An epic is a chunk of work that addresses some functionality to be developed, and they can be used to generate user stories. Utilize this template to write epics. Then, trace the user stories that are generated from each epic. Project and product managers can use this template to manage the work generated from the epics, and all other team members can use it to create epics.

Download Agile User Epic Template - Excel

What Is a User Story?

A user story is a short, simple, and specific description of an interaction within an app or website that is currently in development. Developers, designers, product managers, and others use user stories when building a product.

User stories should define who the users are and what they will do with the product or service. They should also contain a user type, that user’s desired action, and the value the user gets when the action is complete. However, a user story should not describe how to implement or develop a feature or function.

User stories are an integral part of the Agile software development methodology. In comparison to traditional project management methods (i.e. Waterfall), Agile is a flexible and iterative process. Agile runs in cycles, called iterations, that last from one to four weeks. In each iteration, developers work to create new functionality or improve existing functionality. Userser stories are used to to guide how to create functionality. The free, downloadable templates below can be used for creating and working with user stories in various phases of the Agile process. You can read more about Agile and download free Agile project management templates here.

What Is Scrum?

Scrum is a popular project management methodology under the Agile umbrella. It utilizes short, daily team meetings, called stand ups, to discuss plans and progress, and short, time-bound development cycles, called sprints, to get work done.

What Is the Structure of a User Story?

A user story takes the perspective of a person using the product. It  describes what they want to do with it, and what value they will receive from performing that function.

For example, a user story might read: As <a type of user>, I want to <perform some task> so that I can <achieve some goal>.

Here are some example user stories for business expense tracking software:

  • As the data entry person, I want to upload spreadsheets, so I don’t have to cut and paste data.
  • As a traveling sales rep, I want to import images of receipts, so I don’t have to carry them around.
  • As a finance manager, I want to be able to make changes to the stock expense report templates, so I don’t have to manipulate the reports every month.

While this is a simple format, it’s quite flexible and allows for nearly limitless variety.

How Are User Stories Created?

User stories are drawn from epics, which follow a similar written format. Epics cover multiple functions, and therefore need to be broken down into individual user stories that can each be completed in a single sprint. 

The idea is not to eliminate anything from the epic, but to create user stories that are small and specific enough to be completed in a single sprint. 

For example, epics for a calendar app might include the following:

  • As a user, I want to manage all my appointments from my phone.
  • As a user, I want to see my family calendar and business calendar together.
  • As a user, I want to have full functionality in the reminder without opening the app.

Initially, it can be difficult to distinguish between an epic and a user story, but it becomes easier with experience.

Epics and user stories should be based on the needs of users rather than on speculation —  interviews with users or potential users ensure that the stories will be based on reality.

Many organizations also use personas when creating user stories. A persona is a short biography of a fictitious user that helps designers and developers focus on a specific user type rather than a general, imaginary user.

Some organizations break down user stories into child stories (also called sub-stories) that fit the work needed into a single iteration. However, some believe that if a user story can be broken down or doesn’t fit into an iteration, it’s actually an epic.

Who Writes User Stories?

Anyone on a project can write user stories at any time during the project. That said, story-writing sessions typically happen before the first work sprint. This gives the product team a backlog of stories to tackle. 

Learn more about the process of writing user stories in our guide.

There are some helpful frameworks to help for writing strong user stories. One of the most well-known of these frameworks is a mnemonic called INVEST, created by consultant and developer Bill Wake:

  • Independent: It should be self-contained (i.e., not dependent on another user story).
  • Negotiable: There should be room for discussion.
  • Valuable: The story must provide value to stakeholders.
  • Estimable: The amount of effort to implement the story’s functionality can be estimated.
  • Small: It should be completable in a single sprint.
  • Testable: The story must include enough detail to allow the creation of tests that verify the functionality the narrative addresses.

What Are Some Benefits of User Stories?

User stories have become popular in Agile and other methodologies because they provide value and help product development teams work toward the goal of creating functionality that meets user needs. Here are some of the benefits of user stories:

  • It’s a simple way to see what new features and capabilities are needed.
  • They clarify the functionality needed to solve customer problems.
  • They are easy to understand and remember.
  • They focus on business value and customer needs.
  • They make prioritization easy.
  • They focus on how potential customers will use the product.
  • They can save time, as there are fewer false starts.
  • They can be used to trace the history of the product by tracking what features were added in each iteration.
  • They shift the focus from writing requirements to talking about them.
  • They can have different levels of detail.
  • By breaking down work into chunks, they provide flexibility in implementation.
  • Technical specs are left to the developers.
  • They drive collaboration and creative solutions.
  • They improve ROI and team morale.

What Are Some Challenges of User Stories?

While user stories are helpful, like any business tool or process, they aren’t perfect. Here are some of the associated challenges:

  • They don’t address user journeys, visual design, or technical requirements.
  • The final clause of user stories is often neglected by writers, even though it’s the most important part of the process.
  • If writers don’t have the right data or don’t dig into the data they do have in order to pull out user needs, the user stories will be weak.
  • Not fully understanding users will result in stories that don’t address their real needs.
  • If product teams don’t have the right expertise, user stories won’t be effective in addressing user needs.

How Are User Stories Implemented?

User stories should inspire team discussions about how to create and implement functions that are valuable to the user. If you’ve created user personas, it’s helpful to use them during these discussions to maintain a user-centric focus.

During the discussion, the user stories may be displayed on a product canvas, along with personas, epics, and other related items, through a tool such as StoriesOnBoard or FeatureMap. Some teams will also create low-res mockups to allow then to walk through the functionality that will provide a solution to the problem addressed by the user story.

Once user stories have been created and discussed, they need to be mapped. Mapping is a process of laying out a grid of the user stories in logical groups related to a feature or a function or tasks that users complete. Each group may be called a theme. There are many ways to map user stories, including writing them on sticky notes and putting them on a wall or having a box full of index cards and spreading them on a table. Read more about user story mapping here.

As mentioned before, user stories are collected in a backlog. The backlog is a prioritized list of the functionality that will be created for the product. The product owner is responsible for ensuring that there are enough user stories in the backlog for each iteration. While some organizations use other items in their backlog, user stories are the most popular item.

In Waterfall project management, a requirements document outlines what features and functions will be included in the final product. While user stories are not true requirements, in Agile project management, the backlog serves a purpose similar to that of the requirements document.

Due to its structure, a backlog in Agile is much more fluid than that of a Waterfall requirements document. Stories in the backlog should be given unique identifiers to facilitate traceability from the story’s origin (e.g., a bug report, user interviews, a support ticket, or a developer’s suggestion) through its development, testing, and launch. Common tools for tracking stories through launch include JIRA, GitHub, FogBugz, or even an Excel spreadsheet.

After a team agrees on the initial stories, they should meet to flesh out the rest of the information needed for development, testing, and other process steps. They should also prioritize which functionality described in the user stories will be developed first. And again, due to the structure of Agile, the prioritization is fluid and will change in response to new user needs, new user stories, and new competitive pressures.

How Do You Know When You’re Done with a User Story?

Acceptance criteria and conditions of satisfaction ensure that you have successfully implemented the desired functionality outlined in the user story. Generally, acceptance criteria are used to verify that the conditions of satisfaction have been met.

Who Uses User Stories?

An entire Agile team can use user stories for their work on a project, but here is a list of the key team members:

  • Product Owners: Ensure the delivery of a product that meets user needs.
  • Developers: Guide the work of the team.
  • Testers: Verify that the product performs as expected.
  • Technical Writers: Ensure that any support materials cover important use cases.

With the exception of developers, each of these people can act as a customer proxy, placing themselves in the role of a customer or user.

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