A story-writing workshop is a meeting that includes developers, users, the product customer and other parties who can contribute by writing stories. During the workshop the participants write as many stories as they can. No priorities are associated to the stories at this point.

A story-writing workshop is known to be the most effective way to quickly trawl for stories. There should be atleast one story writing workshop prior to starting each planned release. You can always hold additional workshops while working towards the release but that typically is not necessary.

A good-story writing workshop combines the best elements of brainstorming with low-fidelity prototyping.

A low-fidelity prototype is done on paper, note cards, or a white board and maps very high level interactions within the planned software. The prototype is built up iteratively during the workshop as participants brainstorm the things a user may want to do as various points while using the application.

The prototyping is meant to identify only the actual workflows and not to identify the actual screens and fields.

How to start a low-fidelity prototype?

  • First decide which of the system’s user roles or personas you’d like to start with.
  • Repeat the process using each role or persona so the order does not matter.
  • Next, draw an empty box and tell the participants that it is the main screen of the software, and ask them what the selected user role or persona can do from there.

None of the user stories require knowledge about how the screens will be designed.

Best practice: Depth First Approach

The best practice is to use a depth-first approach. For the first component, write down its salient details, then move to a component connected to the first and do the same. Then move to a component connected to that one, rather than going back to the first component and first describing each component connected to it.

Using a breadth-first approach can get somewhat disorienting as it becomes hard to remember where you left off in pursuing each path to its end.

As you walk through the prototype, ask questions that will help you identify missing stories, such as:

  • What will the user most likely want to do next?
  • What mistakes could the user make here?
  • What could confuse the user at this point?
  • What additional information could the user need?

Think about the user roles and personas as you ask these questions. Many of the answers can change based on the user role being considered.

Some important considerations:

  • Maintain a parking lot of issues to come back to.
  • During a story writing workshop the focus should be on quantity rather than quality.
  • The discussion during a user story writing workshop should remain at a very high level.
  • The goal is to write as many user stories in as short a time as possible.
  • Once participants are comfortable that their ideas will be noted, not debated they will contribute more readily.