Is Your Value Statement Valuable?

I was recently coaching a colleague who was looking for some guidance on proper story structure.  I reminded her of the “As a <user>, I want <goal> so that <value>” format.  That led to a discussion of the <value> portion of the story because so often, the value statement is either omitted or doesn’t represent true value.  I gave her the following example:

As a banking customer, I want to pay my bills online so that I don’t have to send a check in the mail.

In the above statement, eliminating the need to send a check in the mail does not reflect the true value, rather it is merely a restatement of the goal of paying bills online in a different form.

Upon closer inspection, the value of this user story could be any number of things such as:

  • Time-savings – it takes longer to write a check, find a stamp, and mail the payment

  • Speed of payment – the customer may not want to wait the additional days it takes for the payment to be received and processed

  • Monetary-savings – if the customer has many bills to pay, they may not want to pay for stamps

  • Better record-keeping – paper records are laborious to manage, take up space, and are more easily lost or destroyed

Simon Sinek, author of the well-known book, “Start With Why” encourages readers to begin with the end in mind.  One approach for deriving intended value is using the 5 WHYS technique whereby you continue to ask WHY until you reach a root cause, or in this case, a root value statement.

  • I do not like to pay bills by check.

    • WHY?

  • It is inconvenient.

    • WHY?

  • It takes too long to mail in and process.

    • WHY?

  • I often misplace my paper bill or my checkbook.

    • WHY?

  • I carry the bill or checkbook with me in a purse, briefcase, etc. or move it to a different room with the expectation that I will have time to pay it and then I don’t get to it.

    • WHY? (does this contribute to it taking too long to process)

  • By the time I mail the payment, I am never sure if the payment will arrive and be processed on time.

In the above example, this particular customer values speed of payment, however by using the 5 WHYS questioning technique, another value was identified. The customer wants to eliminate the uncertainty of when a payment will be received and applied.  In reality, the processing time itself may not be long once the payment is received, but from the customer’s perspective, the uncertainty of when it will be processed equates to long processing time.  Although the customer may also desire some or all of the other benefits listed above, by gaining an understanding of the primary value desired by the customer, the Product Owner can more effectively prioritize backlog items.

As you create new stories and evaluate existing stories in your backlog, be cognizant of the value statement.  Does it simply restate the goal or is the true value reflected? Is the value to the customer indeterminable because the story is not written in the voice of the customer?  Your customer is your why.  You need to determine their why.