Five Simple but Powerful Ways to Split User Stories
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One of the most common struggles faced by agile teams is the need to split user stories. I'm sure you've struggled with this. I certainly did at first.

In fact, when I first began using Scrum, some of our product backlog items were so big that we occasionally opted for six-week sprints. With a bit more experience, though, that team and I saw enough ways to split work that we could have done one-day sprints if we'd wanted.

But splitting stories was hard at first. Really hard.

I've got some good news for you. Not only have I figured out how to split stories on my own, I've learned how to explain how to do it so that anyone can quickly become an expert.

What I discovered is that almost every story can be split with one of five techniques. Learn those five simple techniques and you're set.

Even better, the five techniques form an easily memorable acronym: SPIDR. I introduce each technique below--and the video shows them in action.

SPIDR Technique for Splitting Stories

S is for Spike. That’s one you are probably all familiar with. A spike is a research activity that can give you the knowledge you need to split a complex story. An example might be a build vs. buy decision involving a new component.

P is for Path. If a user can do something in multiple ways, that’s a great area for splitting. An example might be paying via credit card or Apple Pay. One story could make it possible to pay by card, the next by Apple Pay.

I is for Interfaces: Splitting your story by browser, or hardware, or delivering a complex interface in iterations. An example might be delivering a version that only works in Chrome this iteration, and saving Safari for another iteration.

D is for Data. You may be able to deliver value in an iteration by simplifying or restricting the data that's supported. For example, don't allow negative bank balances in the first iteration. Add support for those with a different user story in the next iteration.

R is for Rules. Relaxing support for the rules in an iteration can make large stories smaller.

The SPIDR technique is easy to remember but putting it into action can require a little training and a lot of practice. That's why I put together a Better User Stories video course that includes the SPIDR method for splitting stories, and a whole lot more.

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Mike Cohn

About the Author

Mike Cohn specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of agile processes and techniques to build extremely high-performance teams. He is the author of User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning, and Succeeding with Agile as well as the Better User Stories video course. Mike is a founding member of the Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance and can be reached at If you want to succeed with agile, you can also have Mike email you a short tip each week.

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