The Value of User Stories in Vendor Selection

Home/technology/Technology Story/The Value of User Stories in Vendor Selection

Most of us have heard about user stories being integrated into designing new software products or product features. They are very beneficial because they are descriptions of a desired product feature explained from the perspective of a group of users who ultimately will be utilizing the product. User stories, at a very high level, typically follow a pretty simple framework:

{User}{Goal}{Reason}

Here’s an Example of a Basic User Story:

I’m an

[event planner]; I need a [self registration system] to [determine how much space, supplies, and people I will need to hold a great event].

They are typically captured with common phrases or clauses as follows:

As a ____________ (user)
I want to _____________ (goal or feature)
So that I can________________(reason)

User stories are not just beneficial in the area of software development. They can also be very impactful in the selection of vendors.

Vendor selection is one of the more important decisions an organization can and will make. They are often long term relationships that are critical to the future of the organization. They also are costly, so making the wrong decision can have an extremely negative impact on the organization and its ability to serve end users. It is important to ensure that the vendor’s products and services fully conform with the needs of whoever will be using the product. This is where user stories can have a highly positive impact.

When selecting new technology platforms within an enterprise, user stories help define the different priorities of user groups based on specific features. As an example, we’re currently working with an organization to help them select a Learning Management Platform. This platform is to be used across four departments. It will train different types of users for specific needs. In this case, user stories help us identify:

  • The different groups of users (the role)
  • The particular Learning Management System features (the goal)
  • The training purposes for each department (the reason)

After making these identifications, we are able to more easily prioritize which features are more important to different departments. For instance, in this case:

  • One department needs to train board members about particular policies set by the state.
  • The HR department needs to train their workforce for various skills and classes that may differ by department.
  • Another department wants to provide a training like experience to enable a ‘try before you buy’ approach for marketing and sales purposes.

By capturing these user stories for each department, we are able to effectively communicate the needs of all departments as well as determine how to consolidate learning management features for the entire organization.

shutterstock_258726044Another layer to this process is using personas. Good user stories frequently use personas to better define feature requirements. Personas are not to be confused with user groups. They’re specific representations of a subset of a group or constituency of users. Personas allow you to visualize the experience of the user from their perspective so that you can frame questions according to more specific user considerations. Understanding personas and their goals will allow the creation of impactful user stories.

To illustrate the difference between personas and user groups/constituencies, I will refer back to the organization in the process of selecting a Learning Management System. School board members is a group of users. A persona, meanwhile, is much more specific. It is a fictional representation of an actual school board member. In the development of this persona, he will be given a name, age, family, habits, and even his tendency to use technology to accomplish his goals. So, for instance, our persona is Joe Smith, a 60-year-old grandfather who is not very tech savvy. He has had a smartphone for two years, but he rarely uses it beyond making and receiving calls. He has an iPad that he uses to access information online. He would appreciate any information he needs regarding training to be delivered either in print or in a format he can digest on his tablet. A persona needs to be specific because it sets the framework for a good user story.

Implementing User Stories in Vendor Selection: In order for an organization to effectively harness user stories, a single person or project manager needs to merge the user stories from all departments, hold a workshop or two to clarify and prioritize the user stories, and then translate them into a vendor selection scoring matrix to help select a list of finalists. These steps are critical to ensuring that all departments are a sharing the same vision.

A common misconception is that this role should be assigned to an IT team member. In reality, your entire organization will benefit if you appoint someone from your team who has excellent cross functional relationships and a healthy knowledge of your processes. User stories are best written by users, and when done well, they become a weapon your technology group can use to make excellent recommendations on your behalf.

User stories can be a valuable asset in your vendor selection process, because they help ensure that you are making your decisions based on the specific functionality needed by the people who will be ultimately utilizing the services. These will be the people who will impacted the most by the vendor selection, so user stories are extremely helpful in ensuring that you have considered their perspectives fully before making any final decisions.

Managing technology processes and personnel is not just a function of the technology team. In fact, it should be a core competency of all business leaders. As a business leader, if you feel you need to improve your core skills surrounding technology governance then consider our Technology & Leadership Series. This three-day series is designed specifically to develop leaders in the critical areas of technology governance, enterprise architecture & blueprinting, as well as cybersecurity. For information on this series, please visit fpov.com/tech-leadership-series.

About the Author

Phillip CirclePhillip Seawright is a subject matter expert in several technology strategy disciplines including IT Business Relationship Management, Program Management Governance, Agile Software Delivery, and ITIL and IT Service Management. He has helped clients across multiple industries modernize their IT processes, adjust their technology organization and spending priorities to leverage newer technologies, and dramatically improve the engagement between IT organizations and their business counterparts.

2016-10-30T06:07:47+00:00