User Flows and User Stories

January 21, 2021

Why are user flows and user stories crucial? As a Solutions Architect, I spend a great deal of time creating documentation for developers. A subtle irony hit me one day when I realized I rarely ask for any feedback about the documentation I create. My whole job is focused on user experience and human-centered software design, yet I failed to recognize the user of my own product. As a Solutions Architect team, we began to make a conscious effort to seek feedback and improve our template of documentation. It is now our goal to share our findings along the way.

One attribute of our documentation is user flows and user stories. These tend to vary greatly on a project to project basis, but their structure remains the same. First I want to define user stories and user flows as we use them at fjorge.

User Stories

User stories are a way to identify a user and state their goal. Oftentimes these are great for defining requirements and user roles. A great way to easily structure user stories is to start with, “as a ____, I want ____.” (Bonus points ? if you reference the persona that corresponds to the user). An example of a user story would be something like:

As a retail store employee (Kirk)
I want a simple log-in experience that works every time
I want to enter in new repairs before sending them
I want to group repairs into shipments and generate shipping labels
I want to check on the status of repairs
I want to be alerted to estimates that require my attention
I want to respond to estimates with approval or denial
I want some retail-client-specific POS functionality
I want an interface that only shows me what I need to see

User Flows

User Flows are diagrams that address touchpoints, decisions, actions, and everything else the user goes through when interacting with the site. For example, the user flow below sets up through the process of logging into the website.

User flows include multiple pathways for decision making and exhaustive documentation of the steps a user would follow.

User Stories vs. User Flows

So, which is better? Recently, I posted a poll in the #developers Slack channel asking if devs found user flows or user stories more helpful. I was intrigued by this question because, to be frank, I often skipped out on the process of user stories because I believed they were repetitive to the information that could be found in the user flow.

I only gave the option of either a user flow or a user story in my poll. However, a third option was added by a developer – user flow and user story. Fourteen devs responded, which is a good amount for the size of our startup. To my surprise, 43% of developers preferred to receive both user flows and user stories.

user story vs user flow survey results

I think this shows that user stories and user flows really company one another well. Luckily for me, many developers find just user flow effective, but that leaves out those who prefer a user story. A diagram can lose meaning without an explanation and an explanation can be hard to understand without an image. So while the information might seem repetitive to someone who has a deep understanding of it, both strategies are most effective when used together.

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