Where is the ‘story’ in user stories?

There’s an old Jerry Weinberg quote:

“no matter what the problem is, it’s always a people problem”

which pretty much describes every project I’ve worked on over the years. Lately, I’ve particularly noticed that most of the tough problems evident on projects are more people or business problems than technology problems, which makes me think it’s worthwhile for me to continue my exploration of the business/user end of my list of software development roles.

BA = Business Analyst
UX = User Experience
ET = Exploratory Tester
TT = Technical Tester
Dev = Software Developer

In this vein, I’ve recently been trying to understand how to better articulate user stories, in that one day I’d love to work as a business analyst.

Most nights I read stories to my (almost) three year-old son as a nice way to end the day. Lately I have been making up my own impromptu stories to keep things interesting. I have really enjoyed making up stories on the spot; I think I’d be a good BA.

But thinking about user stories along with bedtime stories immediately raises a question: where is the ‘story’ in user stories?

Most user stories at work sound something like this: “As a user, I want to log onto the system, so that I can access my information”. What a shitty story! Sorry, but seriously, if I told this story to my two year old son, he’d die of boredom!

I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading about user stories but I still can’t find out why they’re actually called stories, because I don’t think they are actual stories:

sto·ry/ˈstôrē/
Noun:
An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment: “an adventure story”.

The closest thing I have found to actual user stories is the concept of ‘soap opera‘ testing scenarios which outline implausible yet possible scenarios:

“A man (Chris Patterson) and his wife (Chris Patterson) want to take their kids (from previous marriages, Chris Patterson, a boy, and Chris Patterson, a girl) on a flight from San Francisco to Glasgow to San Jose (Costa Rica) to San Jose (California) back to San Francisco. He searches for flights by schedule. He’s a Super-Elite-Premium frequent flyer, but he doesn’t want the upgrade that the system automatically grants him so that he can sit with his wife and kids in economy class. He requires a kosher meal, his wife is halal, the boy is a vegetarian, and the girl is allergic to wheat. He has four pieces of luggage per person (including two pairs of skis, three sets of golf clubs, two 120 lb. dogs, and three overweight suitcases), where his frequent flyer plan allows him (but only him) to take up to four checked items, but the others can only take two each. He gets to the last step on the payment page before he realizes that he has confused San Jose (California) for San Jose (Costa Rica), so the order of the itinerary is wrong. The airline cancels the flight after it has accepted his bags, and reroutes him on a partner. The partner cancels the flight (after it has accepted the bags) to San Jose (California) so it reroutes him to another competitor, who cancels the flight (after accepting the bags) to San Jose (Costa Rica) and reroutes him to another partner, who goes bankrupt after it has accepted the bags for the San Francisco flight.”

~ Michael Bolton

Now that’s a real user story!

So, I think we have two choices on the user stories front. We can either make our user stories actually like real juicy stories, or at least start calling them something else!