User Stories vs. Requirements

user stories vs requirements

Stories. You have hundreds of them if you are a product manager. Each one describes the awesome experiences you want your customers to have while using your product. And like any good storyteller, you need your stories to be clear and impactful.

All of the best product managers I know are responsible for sharing what customers really want through user stories.

But here is when being a product manager is hard work. There are also times when you are expected to define the requirements for what your development teams need to build — without providing the “why” from the user’s perspective.

While most new functionality should be defined from a user’s perspective, that is not always feasible or even helpful. For example, consider security features or infrastructure requirements that are not always customer facing.

So the question becomes: When do you use these different vessels? Before you can answer that, you need to understand what makes them different.

There is one major distinction between user stories and requirements: the objective.

The user story focuses on the experience — what the person using the product wants to be able to do. A traditional requirement focuses on functionality — what the product should do. The remaining differences are a subtle, yet important, list of “how,” “who,” and “when.”

Here is how user stories and requirements differ:

How is it written?

User stories should be written in one or two sentences and capture who the user is, what they want, and why. A simple structure for defining features or user stories can look something like this: As a ____, I want to achieve ____ so that I realize the following benefit of ____.

Example: As a user, I want to be able to reset my password so I can get back into the system if I forget it.

Requirements tend to be very detailed and take a longer time to write. These often go into specific detail (sometimes highly technical) on how the software should work. Those details then guide the development team on how to build a new feature or functionality.  

Example: The user is allowed to reset their password once they have received a password reset email. The email should contain a unique link for resetting the password and that link should expire after two hours.

Who writes it?

User stories can be written by just about anyone close to the software — developers raising issues, a QA tester who discovers a flaw in the UX — as long as it represents the end user’s perspective. But it is the product manager or owner who maintains the backlog of user stories.

Requirements are written by the product manager, product owner, or business analyst. Technical leads are often involved as well as the engineers who will be responsible for working on the features or improvements.

When are they written?

User stories are written throughout the building of a product. And updating the stories (or adding new ones) can happen at any time. For agile teams, the product backlog serves as a prioritized list of the functionality that needs to be developed. This is where the user stories are kept until they are worked on — typically during development sprints.

Requirements also can be crafted at any time. However, it is best to define what is desired from the user standpoint first if both stories and requirement definition is required. The further along a team is with their planning, the more the team understands the user and business needs. So, defining hard requirements too early can result in having to change them later — or building something that does not fully deliver the customer’s desired outcome.

Although the objective of a user story or requirement differ, the goal is always the same — building a product that customers love.

Whether you are writing a user story or a requirement, you need to focus on what matters most: describing the desired outcome for the customer and giving development what they need to build it successfully.

I know that it can be confusing to decide what to write. So here is a simple guide to making that choice.

If what you are requesting to build has a direct benefit to your end users, write a user story. If it is more central to the core of a product or infrastructure, jump to defining requirements.

What differences would you add to the list?

About Ron and Aha!

Ron is a product guy. He is the Sr. Director of Product Management at Aha! - the world’s #1 product roadmap software. He previously founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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Comments

  1. Daniel Pokrývka

    Hi Ron, thanks for the article. I was hoping it would address the question of aha entity granularity. Features-Requirements as basics and expanded with master features. Most atlassian affected companies using Jira follow agile methodologies and scrum look-alikes.. So stories and bugs clustered in epics in Jira and Aha itself is then abstraction typically used for epics management as basis for answering “What” question for a product manager. Well.. the latter being true for company I work in now. Any thoughts on the subject?

    Reply
  2. Reich Salcedo

    Your Requirements in conjuction to a User Story are simply put in my perspective as Acceptance Criteria, which if covered properly helps clear the vagueness of the overall User Story. The Acceptance Criteria is then used by the Agile Dev tram to deliver the user story and call it Done. This would be on top of the Agile team’s Development standards called Definition of Done.

    Reply
  3. Vishal

    I have not clearly understood the need to segregate user stories and requirements as it seems the detailed requirements are what we understand as acceptance criteria in stories which cannot be separated. Moreover in an agile project, where we use tools like Jira there is no way to write requirements, there are just user stories which detail the requirement.

    Reply
  4. DANIEL POKRÝVKA

    So, imagine you are using epics too in Jira (that is frequent). Can aha describe some expected scenarios and proper implementation of integration with Jira, that they have in mind?

    Reply
    1. Jessica Groff

      Hi Daniel,

      We have many customers who use Jira epics. We would need to know more about your specific workflows and what you are hoping to achieve to best make a recommendation.

      In general, this is a common mapping for the integration.
      – Master Feature > Jira Epic
      – Feature > Jira Story
      – Requirement > Jira Subtask

      We do have a few support articles that might help as you consider how to integrate Aha! with your development system. Specific to Jira, I think you will find our integrate with Jira support article helpful.

      Of course, all product teams work differently. If you would like to chat with a former product manager and Aha! expert about your specific use case, send us a note at support@aha.io and you will get a response quickly.

  5. Saige Fraiha

    Stories don’t always have to be user centric, and jumping to requirements without outlining the value often leads to features that provide no value, but eat dev time. The solution is simple, provide a system story, and requirements. As a system I need to x so I can y.

    Reply
  6. Alex

    ” security features or infrastructure requirements that are not always customer facing.”

    Doesn’t this mean that your user story will be written on behalf of a stakeholder’s role who cares about security on behalf of the customer — CISO, CEO, anybody who cares? If there is no person that cares, then there is no reason to have a feature.

    In that sense, user stories are no different than Business and System Use Cases written for functional requirements and Quality Attribute Use Cases for non-functional.

    Reply

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