Who Should Write User Stories?

Groom product backlog

Scrum teams face a common challenge of creating and maintaining a healthy product backlog.  In the ideal case, the product backlog should include a prioritized list of stories.  Each story helps the team understand the vision or concept of “done” for each feature or team chore.   According to the Scrum guide, the product owner has the final say on the content of the product backlog.   He or she provides final clarity on “done conditions” of user stories and the priority of stories.

In my experience in implementing Scrum, I started noticing that my product owners became less engaged in the labor of writing user stories.   In our particular case, our product owners were busy guys.   They have many other responsibilities in the business while also creating clarity on the vision and implementation of our products.   When we enabled our product owners to become vague in the expectations of “done”, the engineering team started to notice an increase in re-work and team frustration.

Enable the product owner to select a product backlog scribe

Through the experience, we learned that fuzzy expectations and requirements should not be allowed.   Over time, we’ve seen a few solutions that seem to help.   If a product owner doesn’t have time to help with defining user stories and priority well, the organization should find a way so that the product owner can delegate the labor of product backlog management, clarity and documenting stories.    In our case, the product owner still had the final authority over the product backlog.   We, however, used his time more effectively by asking him to review the contents of the product backlog.   The details of product backlog management, story definition, and prioritization were delegated to a team member selected by the product owner.   The team became happier since they had stronger clarity on stories planned for sprints.

Empower Your Team to edit the product backlog

According to Scrum, any member of the team can add chores and user stories to the product backlog.   In some cases, team members can take up the responsibility of documenting user stories and recommending priority.   The product owner must make time to review and make final edits to the product backlog and priority.   This strategy makes an attempt to use the product owner’s time in more effective manner.

Team Communication is key

Healthy Scrum teams learn to communicate effectively.   Proper product backlog management encourages a set of communication habits to make sure the product owner and team regularly communicate and manage expectations.   In my experience, a groomed product backlog helps to streamline the sprint planning process.  Whether the product owner writes the user stories or not, it’s important for the product owner and team to regularly communicate through sprint planning, backlog grooming, and sprint demos.   In researching this post, I found many other Scrum teams who emphasized the importance of user story clarity and communication.

We love to hear your tips and tricks for making sprint planning more effective!  What do you do?

Look forward to checking out your comments.

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