My review of Mike Cohn’s “Better User Stories” course

Hi everyone! I recently spent two days going through Mike Cohn’s “Better User Stories” course, and I wanted to write a quick review of how it went, so that you can decide if it’s right for you.

Summary

  • Price $395 USD (about ยฃ310)
  • Content – A course about improving your understanding of user stories
  • About 16 hours – 20 hours in one go; a tough 2 days or a much nicer paced 3 day course.
  • You could tackle the course over a much larger time period in bite sized chunks.
  • Aimed at anyone who wants to learn more about user stories

The course is split into a few key areas:

  1. What are user stories?
  2. Users, roles and personas
  3. Story mapping and writing workshops
  4. Adding detail with Acceptance Criteria/Conditions of Satisfaction
  5. Using INVEST to help guide you to writing better user stories
  6. How and when to split user stories; specifically using the SPIDR approach
  7. Overcoming common issues with user stories
  8. Alternatives to user stories

What is worth it?

Absolutely. I’ve been a Scrum Master for over 10 years now, and I still found lots of really useful insight and ways I could improve my own user stories.

I’m not going to go through in detail what happens in each section, you need to buy the course yourself for that, but here’s what I will say:

  • The structure of the course is very clear, split into well thought out modules that would make it very easy to dip into and out of if you are short on time and want to work at your own pace
  • There are worksheets and quizzes at key points to help cement your understanding. Personally, I used my own product backlog from my place at work and immediately made changes to my backlog using real examples.
  • You can easily go back and revisit topics to cover them again

Key Takeaways

  • At work, we’ve recently started using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with quarterly objectives. This directly aligns with Mike’s “significant objective” tactic for identifying user stories in a user story workshop. We’re definitely going to continue doing this; the course reaffirmed this for me
  • I can already see that my teams are adding way too much detail, way too early to our user stories. This is resulting in lots of time being potentially wasted working on items we may never tackle. The free time we’ll gain from “doing less” too far in advance will likely make us way more productive right here and now
  • It’s also quite clear to me that my teams need to spend more time identifying our users. Moving forwards, rather than using the generic “as a user” format; we will use a more specific type of user. We need to spend some time creating a user role model and using the users identified for all future stories
  • My teams have recently started using “user story” mind-mapping sessions. After completing this course, I’ve also identified a few more methods of generating stories, which will help us make sure we’ve covered the key requirements for each type of user, for each piece of work
  • Recently, one of my teams started re-writing our acceptance criteria in “Gherkin” format; we had a discussion about why acceptance criteria weren’t for QA, rather they were what the Product Owner considers necessary to be “done” and that Gherkin was complementary to that. This course showed me that using the term “Conditions of Satisfaction” might have helped clear this confusion right from the start. My teams will start using that term in the very near future (after we’ve discussed it as a group of course). The course showed me that my instinct was correct, Gherkin is for acceptance testing (QA); not acceptance criteria (Product Owner)
  • I’ll be training my teams on the difference between compound and complex user stories, helping them understand the different approaches we can take when attempting to split a story, and when a good time to add detail and split a user story is
  • I’m going to ask my teams in their next team retrospective if they had “just enough info, just in time” to see if we are adding the right amount of detail upfront

Summary

When you finish the course you get a lovely digital certificate, and a badge you can put on all your social profiles / email signature etc… (the small things ๐Ÿ˜„ ).

I hope this review helps you choose to purchase Mike Cohn’s Better User Stories course; it really does help you consider how user stories are constructed, how they live and breathe the agile development process, and how they can help you succeed. It was certainly money well spent for me.

Please share this article with anyone that might find it useful.

Till next time.

Stephen Waring
Stephen Waring

I’m an enthusiastic and energetic Scrum Master who loves everything about Agile!