As micro-ISV it is often hard to generate new ideas, you lack the ability to bounce things off of large teams. It is often difficult to make important decisions on what features are important and which ones are just “nice to have”. That is why I chose to take a rather interesting approach to generating user stories for my software. First off, this is not SCRUM I am talking about here, but I am borrowing a concept from Agile methodologies for managing software requirements such as User Stories. The reason I chose this approach is because it has worked the best for me in the past, it is easier to prioritize, and thirdly I believe Agile methodologies can work on a single person team as long as you adapt and use only the pieces you need. Typically when I do Agile coaching the main thing I tell teams is to use the parts of Agile that work for you, and don’t worry about what Agile “is”, as that is not productive.
Generating User Stories
So how do you generate user stories without a team? Well you need to organize your thoughts in a relational, visual, and meaningful way. If you do not accomplish this task you will have a very difficult time generating and prioritizing your user stories. Instead you will get caught up in brainstorming your ideas using your user stories, you want to avoid this as its not useful. Typically I create what I like to call “Epic User Stories”, these are the first stage of user stories I create. These stories will either get migrated down into the product backlog or they will remain epics only to be further broken down at a later time. If I deem a story epic and I cannot break it down immediately into more clear low level stories and tasks then it is by its nature a low priority story.
Organizing Your Thoughts
So how do you organize your thoughts into a relational, visual, and meaningful way? Well a new tool that is gaining popularity is MindMapping. What is MindMapping? Well the Wikipedia definition is:
A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study,organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.
How do you generate a mind map? Well you could simply pull out a piece of paper and draw your own mind map. The concepts for mind mapping are very simple, however, a more robust and productive way of doing this is to utilize a mind mapping software tool.
There are many out there, as seen below the length of trial and price as of this writing:
- Mindjet - Free 30 day trial, $349
- ConceptDraw MINDMAP 5 Professional, Free 30 day trial, $299
- iMindMap Pro Ultimate – Uknown Trial Duration, $295 (written by creator of MindMapping software)
- xMind – Free, XMind Pro – $49
There are a ton more but those are the ones worth mentioning in my opinion. Which one did I choose? Well I have a friend who was able to get me a promotional free copy of ConceptDraw MINDMAP 5 Professional, otherwise I was using xMind before and it was more than adequate for my needs. I highly recommend any of the above solutions, they all accomplish the same goal. Once you have your “mind on paper”, you can begin generating user stories from those relationships and ideas.