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If Web CMS Implementations Fail, Blame the Users #CMSX - Page 2

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The test of a user story is summarized by the INVEST acronym. The INVEST test comes from the agile development world and stands for:

  • Independent — is the story independent of other stories?
  • Negotiable — is the implementation of the story something that can be discussed between business and tech, for example? It should focus on the essence, not the details of the scenario.
  • Valuable — is the story aligned with the mission and valuable to the persona?
  • Estimable — can we estimate the amount of time or work the story implicates?
  • Small — is the amount of work implicated less than a month? Is this really a single unit or is the story composed of multiple stories that need to be further broken down?
  • Testable — do we have a clear way to verify whether or not a story can be accomplished once the implementation is completed?

A useful user story contains significantly more information than the scenario. A fully formed user story encapsulates the 3 Cs: Card, Conversation and Confirmation.

The Card

This is the basic scenario phrase. It is called the card as often this phrase will be written on a 3"x5" card and used during card sorting exercises.

The Conversation

This is the dialog about how the story will manifest and what users care about. It is recorded as part of the story in a series of concise bullet points, with the goal of enriching the story.

The Confirmation

The confirmation element contains the business requirements for the "Testable" bit of the story. These are the tests required to confirm a story has been implemented correctly and completely.

Mittleman suggests the following format for a user story: 

  • Title
  • ID
  • Scenario (As X, I want to Y, so that Z)
  • Conditions of Satisfaction
  • Example scenario
  • Business Rules
  • Impacts on existing functions
  • Links to reference information
    • Specifications
    • UI mock-ups
    • Etc.
  • Test case outlines

And he points out that there are both low-tech (e.g., 3x5 cards) and high-tech (e.g.,, WebSort, etc.) tools for building out user stories with your team.

5) Build Reference Points, Wisely

The road forward from user stories requires imagination and research. Some keys to this next phase says Mittleman, are looking at reference sites and studying competitors — look for best practices, recurring patterns and looking for how similar problems have been solved. Try reverse engineering your competitors' user stories and the personas they target. 

Additional tips Mittleman shared include:

  • Test the users you want, not the users you have
  • Users give you conflicting feedback, take time to find the most broadly useful reality
  • Validate the problems you are solving actually exist
  • Prototype early
  • Plan through version two or three

6) Get Your Content Strategy Sorted

This phase begins the shift from problem seeking to design and is particularly important for Web CMS projects. CMS projects are heavily content centric and the information architecture and content strategy can have big implications on the platform selected for the project, says Mittleman.

Mittleman suggested that Card Sorting while not a simple topic (he spends 3-4 weeks of his course on the topic), is one of the best tools for teasing out the relevant content strategy details. He pointed us to for a solid overview of card sorting techniques. And to this post for a list of relevant tools.

Card sorting, says Mittleman, will give you a visual mind map of how your users think. This map will in turn inform your taxonomies, choice of site vocabulary, how menus are labeled, how elements are grouped and more.


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