We have worked with several companies who are on the journey of adopting a more Agile way of working, and a common theme we are observing is the topic of User Story level of detail. What level of detail should be provided in the user stories so that the teams can meet the acceptance criteria?

We see teams tying themselves in knots trying to establish the level of detail that should be documented to satisfy all parties, before any conversations have taken place. In some cases this deteriorates further with development teams criticising the Product Owners and BAs for the lack of detail and the latter accusing developers of asking them to do their job for them. This immediately puts teams at odds with the Agile value of collaboration.

Fair enough the detail brings comfort to everyone that all avenues have been considered but there is such a thing as going beyond what is necessary. Too much detail can slow delivery as it takes time to provide, and it can stifle creativity. Too little detail will mean the team will struggle to deliver the Story as they will spend most of their time seeking answers to questions or they may make incorrect assumptions.

So, what can be done to get the level right? Is there a generic answer that fits all and will ultimately save time in the long run by nailing the detail at the outset?

Our thoughts on this are:

  • There is no one-size fits all answer. Every team is different, every requirement is different, solution complexity is different.
  • Understand the right level for the team, manage expectations and come to an agreement of what will be provided and importantly what is not.
  • Create an environment that supports collaboration, self-sufficiency and self-motivation. If details are lacking or are confusing then ownership is on the team to get up and ask the right person for answers.
  • Trial and error. Don’t be afraid to learn and adapt.
  • It is OK to provide detail up front, but it should be relevant and aid the team’s understanding.

Ultimately, the user story needs to represent the business need with accuracy and clarity and the scrum team needs a clear understanding of the outcome required on which to examine the options and viable solutions. If these areas have been met then the User Story is a success.