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Within the Agile framework, work completed is often based on user stories. User stories are the goals that your end users are trying to achieve. These stories help Agile teams move away from focusing on tasks and features and instead prioritize their users’ perception of value. 

User stories are helpful, but they can also be tough to complete in a reasonable amount of time (like in one sprint). That’s where story splitting comes in.

What Is story splitting?

Story splitting is the process of breaking one single user story into smaller stories. However, it’s not about breaking it into component tasks, but rather complete stories or slices that still deliver value to the user. 

The easiest way to understand it is with an example. So, let’s say that you and your team are working on developing software that helps HR teams manage their company intranet. When working on a user story, you use the common “As a… I want to… so that…” template (also known as the “Connextra format”). Here’s what you come up with: 

As an administrator I want to publish content to our company intranet so I can keep employees updated. 

This user story gives you the functionality you need to focus on: administrators need to be able to publish content to the site. But, as you think about that further, you’ll realize that there’s a lot of different functionality rolled into that seemingly simple story. For example, you realize that: 

  • Administrators need to be able to publish different types of content (videos, documents, text updates, etc.)
  • Administrators need to be able to schedule content to publish
  • Administrators need to be able to preview published content
  • Administrators need to be able to collaborate on content 

Suddenly that single user story seems far more daunting than when you started, right? It’s far more than you could deliver in a single sprint. That’s the beauty of story splitting: it forces you to break that larger user story down into smaller stories that are more manageable but still valuable.

Why is splitting user stories important?

User story splitting might seem too nitty-gritty, but it’s a valuable activity for Agile teams for a few different reasons, primarily: 

  • Story splitting user stories avoids overwhelm by giving the team smaller, more manageable pieces of work
  • Story splitting helps teams deliver value to customers early and often
  • Story splitting changes the mindset from thinking about layers of development to the experience of the user
  • Story splitting requires that the team prioritizes the highest-value goals and features for users 
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Splitting user stories: techniques to try

As valuable as story splitting is, it can be a challenge for teams. Many fall into the trap of splitting stories by tasks or technical requirements — rather than stand-alone small stories that still deliver value. 

There isn’t one “right” way to split user stories, which is why there are dozens of different splitting user stories techniques that teams use. Some common splitting patterns to explore include: 

Workflow steps:

You can split a user story by identifying the most important slice of the customer’s workflow and supplementing with other slices later.

User story:

  • As an administrator, I need to publish content

Split stories: 

  • As an administrator, I need to draft content 
  • As an administrator, I need to schedule content 
  • As an administrator, I need to upload multimedia

Variations in data:

You can split a user story by figuring out how data will be entered into the software.

User story:

  • As an administrator, I need to schedule content

Split stories:

  • As an administrator, I need to schedule content by manually typing a date and time
  • As an administrator, I need to schedule content by selecting a date and time from a dropdown
  • As an administrator, I need to schedule content by selecting a date from a pop-up calendar


Defer performance:

You split a user story by identifying what you need to make it work, and then later adding in other functionality to make it perform even better (such as making it faster, easier, more scalable, or more secure).

User story:

  • As an administrator, I need to publish content.

Split stories: 

  • As an administrator, I need to bulk edit content
  • As an administrator, I need to approve or reject content 

All of these splitting patterns are included in the well-known story splitting flowchart created by Richard Lawrence. It’s a helpful tool to use to find the best ways to split your own user stories.