User stories are one of the lightening rod concepts in Agile development because they reflect a shift in tone and perspective. User stories represent a different plan for translating user needs into functional value than that which is found in traditional approaches to software development.

  1. User stories shift the paradigm from writing to talking.

The metaphor of story is used to drive home the point that a user story reflects a conversation in which users and stakeholders describe  their needs as events in their day-to-day world.  Or when they are describing new functionality as extension of their current work narrative. The shift from writing to talking embraces the fluid nature of narrative that may change each time it is told. Stories are generally documented as short statements that require continued conversations to drill down to detail.

  1. User stories shift the tone from contractual to intimate language.

Most requirements processes include a sign-off. Stakeholders from both IT and the business would validate the requirements document and attest that it was accurate and complete. The document and the sign-off represented a contract. User stories begin as high-level statements that provide only the level of detail needed to develop an initial estimate for development. Stories follow a pattern of evolution from high level into more detailed stories based on conversations with and among the stakeholders. Understanding based on the fluidity of stakeholder’s knowledge is nearly the opposite of signed-off requirements documents.

  1. User stories shift the focus from specialization to collaboration.

Learning to write user stories is a simple process. Whether stories are written using informal or formal formats, all stakeholders can easily learn to write user stories. Because of the ease of writing user stories, all stakeholders can be drawn upon to write user stories. When all stakeholders are involved, requirements stop being the sole responsibility of specialists, such as business analysts. Without the need to draw on exclusively on specialists opens the door for all stakeholders to collaborate on developing an understanding of what has to be developed and delivered.

User stories are a tool that democratizes requirements. When Agile is used, user stories shift the basis for developing and maintaining projects from a requirements driven contract. A contract that is typically driven by all of the requirements users can think of because having a conversation that will evolve the requirements will be at best difficult after sign-off. As requirements evolve they are refined and detail is added through adding acceptance criteria, adding supporting documents and/or by splitting users stories.