What user stories are really about

User stories do not have to follow the format, “As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].”

User stories do not have to be used to assign work to developers.

User stories do not have to have “story points” or be used to estimate how long work will take.

User stories are so much more…

A user story is a ‘boundary object’, a conceptual object that has can be interpreted differently by different people but which have enough immutable content to maintain the integrity of what it is communicating. They allow “coordination without consensus”, meaning that not everyone has to agree on how to define and interpret the information the boundary objects holds in order to make use of it how they need to.

The concept of boundary objects was introduced by Susan Leigh Star and James R. Griesemer in a 1989. They describe boundary objects as:

Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.

User stories are a way for people with different domains of knowledge to share a common understanding in a way that makes sense for their specialised knowledge domain and has . A good user story makes sense to a content designer thinking about content and to a developer thinking about code. The story is talking about one thing only, but different people with different perspective can understand the story in a way that makes sense to them.

Writing good user stories isn’t about following a prescribed format, it is about creating boundary objects that work across domains and give people the knowledge they need.