User stories vs. business stories

When business goals clash with user needs

In Agile software development, features and functionality planning is usually documented in the form of user stories. Ideally, a user story represents a user goal and an outcome, and is told from user’s point of view. This helps Agile teams to keep users at the center of the development process.

The typical format of a user story is a single sentence:

“As a [type of user], I want to [goal], so that [benefit].”

For example,

“As a Medium user, I want to sort my bookmarks based on date, so that I can start reading from my oldest bookmarks.”

User stories: a case for Instagram

As a user, I want to share a story on Instagram, so that I can share the moment with my friends.

or,

As a user, I want to view my friends’ activities, so that I can discover content that might be of interest to me.

Introducing ‘business stories’

Instagram recently rolled out some major design updates to its home page, downgrading two primary actions to secondary status and replacing their seats with two features that aim to keep people hooked and to drive in-app shopping, which seem to be frustrating many users.

Screenshots of Instagram user complaints on Reddit
Some angry users
Screenshots of Instagram highlighting user interface changes
An overview of the recent changes

Let’s put ourselves into Instagram’s shoes and write one business story for each of the updates mentioned above:

Shop:

Reels:

While the above-mentioned motivations for Instagram in the “so that…” sections are speculations, it can be claimed that there’s a considerable contrast between the actual user needs and desires and what Instagram thinks users should be doing.

How business stories might help

Documenting business goals in a similar format to user stories might help highlight the contrast or overlap between the two sides. When there is an overlap, it means the user and the business goals are aligned, so the product changes will likely delight the users. In case of contrast, and when the user goal is well-researched, a revisal of the business goal would probably decrease the potential negative impact on the user side.

I am eager to give business stories a shot in my work. Does it make sense to you?

Can Aslan is a Product Designer/Manager with an MSc degree in IT Product Design at SDU Denmark. https://canaslan.com/

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