Announcement: All software requirements services are now delivered through Better Software UK.

Well defined user stories is not waterfall

I’m absolutely stunned by the sheer number of people who confuse ‘well defined user stories’ with a waterfall development approach.

Just because we, as a team, take the time to review, discuss, change and add context to user stories ahead of sprint planning, does not mean this is some how anti-agile.

Don’t take my word for it, even Jeff Sutherland in “The Scrum Papers: Nut, Bolts, and Origins of an Agile Framework” outlines the need for some up-front requirements analysis, namely:

“One of the lesser known, but valuable, guidelines in Scrum is that five or ten percent of each Sprint must be dedicated by the Team to refining the Product Backlog. This includes detailed requirements analysis”

10% equates to 8 hours per two week sprint, per developer, to refine stories on the backlog. And that’s plenty of time to do more that just wordsmith the ‘As a… I want…’ statements.

Sometimes when refining a user story, we even poke endpoints, examine message schemes, document behaviour and anything else deemed helpful to surface unknown unknowns early on; leaving the door wide open for the developer to do their work, whilst at the same time hopefully avoiding any brick walls.

I’m still astounded by just how many people seem to find the above somehow unhelpful or unpalatable (although I notice an absence of developers in that vocal cohort). But irrespective of this, what we never try to do, is well define ALL user stories, up-front and in advance of any development starting. That really would be waterfall development.


Frank Ray Consulting. Software requirements for agile development teams, particularly remote, outsourced and offshore development teams working in financial services.

Get in touch if you need our help

Woking, Surrey, GU22, United Kingdom