Quickly Help Users Identify Their Needs

Many projects bog down during requirements gathering. This is dangerous because it wastes valuable time, often setting up a project to be late.

To avoid this problem, I like to engage users and stakeholders in very lightweight story-writing workshops. Before anyone arrives in the meeting room, I will Stack of Multi-Colored Index Cardsprepare the room by making sure there are pens and index cards within reach of every chair in the room. Even if you will be using a tool to maintain your product backlog, pen and paper are great for this type of early brainstorming.

I then write on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper:

As a ________

I want _________

so that ________

You’ll probably recognize that as the usual format of a user story, but your users may not. So I tell everyone that we’re gathered to fill in the blanks. We may start with a brief effort to identify who the products users are (the first of the three blanks). But most of the time will be spent filling in the second and third blanks (what and why).

I find that 90 minutes of this is usually plenty of brainstorming to load up a few months worth of high-priority items in a product backlog. That’s a guideline and will, of course, need to be adjusted based on the number of participants, previous agreement on the product vision, and other factors. Save time by avoiding prioritization discussions. Leave that to the product owner to be done outside the story-writing workshop.