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User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development
by Mike Cohn

Addison-Wesley Professional
1 edition
March 2004
304 pages

Reviewed by Ernest Friedman-Hill, September 2004
  (8 of 10)

Many books have been written about requirements gathering as a discipline, and many more about techniques for doing it. To my knowledge, this is the first book dedicated to "user stories", the form of software requirements capture used in Extreme Programming (XP). At first blush, you might think that there isn't enough to the topic to warrant a book, because the beauty of user stories is their simplicity. But Mike Cohn shows that there is indeed plenty of potential material -- and useful material at that. My only complaint about this book is that the proofreading could have been more careful; there are too many "stray words" left over from editing.

In "User Stories Applied", Cohn explains what stories are, what makes a good story, and how stories are written. He uses copious examples throughout, and I enjoyed the self-test questions at the end of each chapter. My favorite part of the book comes near the end, when he works through how the initial set of stories would be developed using a nontrivial example (an eCommerce web site.)

Although user stories are traditionally associated with XP, they can be used without it, and Cohn shows how stories fit in with other agile methodologies (Scrum in particular.) If you need to capture requirements for agile projects, or if you're sick of writing ISO standard requirements documents and think there must be a better way, then this book is for you.

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Addison-Wesley Professional
1 edition
March 2004
304 pages

Reviewed by Lasse Koskela, July 2004
  (10 of 10)

"User Stories Applied" was a book that long stood on my Amazon wish list with a "must have" rating. I'm not disappointed. I loved the book. Now let me explain why.

First of all, running the planning aspect of an XP project, for example, well is essential for reaping the benefits of agile software development. Yet, relatively little has been written to guide practitioners in doing that. I, for example, have made all the mistakes Cohn enumerates in the chapters for guiding the user towards writing *good* user stories (usually more than once). These sorts of things make you realize you shouldn't put the book on the shelf to gather dust! The author doesn't cover just writing good user stories, but the whole spectrum from putting together the customer team to estimating stories to discussing the stories to writing acceptance tests for the stories.

Second, it's a pleasure to read. The structure makes sense, each chapter is followed by a useful summary, and there's a set of questions -- along with answers -- to make sure you understood what the chapter talked about. Usually these kinds of Q&A sections simply force me to skip them over. The questions in this book did not. I read each and every one of them and I think there was only one set of questions that I did "pass" with the first try, usually having forgotten some rather important aspects to consider (concrete evidence of their usefulness to me). To finish, the last part of the book, an example project, nicely ties together all the threads.

As usual, there were some things I experienced not so well. I believe the chapter on applying user stories with Scrum could've been left out without breaking the plot. Also, I think a typical user wouldn't have been bothered about dropping the appendix introducing Extreme Programming.

In summary, this is the book to get if you're involved with user stories. I had to pause reading every few pages to scribble down some specific tips. I'm confident that you will too.

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