Slicing User Stories 7 Methods

Layered Cake

In an Agile Development Project, the Solution Requirements are communicated from the customer to the delivery / development team using a standard notation easily understood by the delivery team and all stakeholders.  This standard notation is known as a User Story.  See our post on What Makes a Good User Story for more details.

When committing a User Story to a sprint in an agile project it is best that all the tasks necessary to take the User Story to the teams stated definition of done can be completed within a single sprint.  In most cases a User Story so large that it cannot be completed within a sprint is a feature or epic that should be broken down into smaller components before being committed to the sprint.

There are several different ways we can go about breaking down or slicing a User Story.  We call it slicing to invoke the “Layered Cake Metaphor”.

As the theory goes we can only truly enjoy our cake if we take a vertical slice of the cake ensuring that we get all of the flavors from each layer including the frosting between layers.  Taking that concept to our layered application architecture this simply means that to really call a story “Done” we must be able to test and use the features introduced by the completion of the User Story.  If we don’t get each layer of the application framework in our “slice” then we can’t use the feature.  For example, a login feature is only useful if we have the login form at the user interface layer, some authentication logic at the business rules layer and data layer logic to compare the given username and password with values stored in a credential store.  We need each layer of the cake to complete the story.  If we only have the user interface layer we could enter the username and password but there would be nothing to compare it with.  With this in mind “how” we slice our cake / User Stories is as important as the slicing itself.

Common methods for slicing user stories are:
Slicing by Happy vs. Unhappy Flow
Slicing by Workflow Steps
Slicing by Test Scenarios
Slicing by Acceptance Criteria Rules
Slicing  byData Types or Parameters
Slicing by Operations
Slicing by Roles
See the posts on each method for details on how to slice or size your user stories for completion in a single sprint.

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