Building Success with User Story Workshops


When building a new product, Grio always likes to start with a user story workshop (USW). A USW is our way of bringing a cross-functional team together to visualize the project and create clear project goals and priorities. In this post, I will introduce the USW and the benefits it provides for both Grio and our clients. 

Why Do We Use User Story Workshops? 

Before the USW was implemented at Grio, the general process for project kick-offs was:

  1. Partners would engage with prospective clients and establish scope, timelines, and estimates.
  2. Projects would start with an internal kickoff and a client kickoff, which would cover these topics at a high level and get the team up to speed and ready to begin. 
  3. PMs, designers, and developers then get to work.

The problem with this process was that the kickoff meetings only provided brief summaries of the project and didn’t provide a lot of the context and in-depth details discussed with the client prior to the project kickoff. As a result, sometimes projects suffered from misaligned priorities, unexpected scope changes, and virtually no relationship between the client and the team actually doing the work. Without this client-teamwork relationship and trust, there was not much room to recover when obstacles were encountered. 

We realized that we needed a better way to address this friction, get the whole team aligned from the start on project priorities and scope, and build a cohesive team partnership with our client right from the start of the project. The solution we arrived at to address these issues is Grio’s  User Story Workshop. 

After the USW was implemented, the process for project kick-offs now has one extra step:

  1. Partners would engage with prospective clients and establish scope, timelines, and estimates.
  2. Client, Grio Project Manager, Design Lead, and Engineering Lead, hold a User Story Workshop.
  3. PMs, designers, and developers then get to work.

The goals of the workshop can be different for each client but for every project, we follow the same basic structure. For some projects, the USW functions as a fact-finding mission to help the client begin to establish the project’s scope. For other projects, the client will already have a good idea of what they want to do, and the USW will help build the relationship and confirm the details of the project. 

The results of workshops include:

  • Estimates, timelines, and priorities can be refined and agreed upon based on a clear understanding of the project and goals.
  • Any Grio team members joining the project who weren’t in the workshop can review the workshop recordings and documentation to get a rich context about the project to minimize onboarding time when joining new projects.
  • The client is able to establish a relationship with the Grio project team early, which helps to establish trust throughout the project. 
  • The team sees the big picture and can act on the client’s, product’s, and user’s behalf.  

The Inspiration for the User Story Workshop

Sprint,” by Jake Knapp, outlines a five-day design process, adapted from Google, for kicking off a large initiative. The Sprint process helps a team organize their thoughts, use tool kits, and flesh out ideas. 

To create the USW, we extracted one of the earlier sections of the book that focused on aligning the team around the “map and target.” This section was then tested and updated to create an efficient workshop that worked for both Grio and our clients. 

Grio was already very good at taking a backlog, building it out, and designing superior UI/UX and software. The USW simply capitalized on these strengths early in the project timeline by helping the team align to the client’s need and vision from project initiation. 

Workshop Overview

At a high level, the goal of the workshop is to use various design thinking techniques to brainstorm, whiteboard, sticky-note, and ideate our way to the right set of product requirements for the client. This occurs in three main steps:

  1. Creative Ideation: During the workshop, we use various tools and methods, including Lean UX Canvas, User Identification, and Stakeholder Needs to get as many ideas as possible on the table. The ideas we present tend to include ideas the client asked for, ideas that we may not use down the road, and ideas that the client wants to use but hadn’t previously considered. This creative ideation tends to work best when we have a cross-functional team from both the client and the Grio team. For example, the client may bring a business stakeholder, technical stakeholder, and designer, while we bring an engineer, designer, and project manager. 
  2. Identification of Users and Goals: Next, we talk about the users: who are they, what do they need, and why do they need it? Sometimes this is very clear, while other times, it’s a bit fuzzy. However, identifying the users and goals ensures that the priorities of the project are met from the beginning. 
  3. User Story Creation: Finally, we connect the dots by brainstorming product ideas and features to help users in the form of “user stories.” User stories are high-level descriptions of how a feature works, written from the end user’s perspective. The user stories are very valuable when you begin building out a backlog and doing the work. 

Divergent and Convergent Thinking

One of the things we cover in the workshop is the concept of convergent and divergent thinking. When we begin the workshop, we are doing divergent thinking: generating new ideas, creating choices, and accepting all ideas. 

After the workshop, the Grio team then completes the convergent thinking, and we create a recommendation based on our understanding of the client’s needs and goals, budget, and timeline. This process includes analyzing and filtering the ideas generated during the USW, prioritizing features, and making decisions. It’s important that everyone in the USW understands these processes, and accepts that not all of the ideas generated during the USW will be utilized in the final recommendation. 


Once we have taken the information gathered during the USW and condensed it into a concise recommendation, we will provide clients with the following documentation:

  1. Product Analysis Document: The Product Analysis Document is a large report that describes the product features as we understand them, how we will approach the product, including proposed team size and schedule, our technology recommendations, and what we identify as the biggest risks of the project. This allows us to further confirm our alignment with the client before starting work. 
  2. User Stories Spreadsheet: We bring all of the user stories we created during the USW into a spreadsheet that we can use with the client to organize our priorities easily. 
  3. Data Definition Document: The Data Definition Document includes the names and descriptions of key data fields, including data associations and relationships. While some of our projects are straightforward, others have niche languages that we may not be accustomed to, such as projects with medical or chemical terminology.
  4. Miro Board & Other Artifacts: Finally, the client is given all of the brainstorming artifacts, such as the Miro Board and Lean UX Canvas, that we create during the USW. 

Overall, the USW has allowed Grio to form more successful, trusting partnerships with clients, while elevating the quality of the products we create.

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