It’s How You Slice It – A User Story Slicing Exercise

One of the challenges of learning about user stories is learning to refine and identify which user story size we are dealing with. Some teams struggle by creating big user stories or epics that are hard to tackle. The first step is to correctly identify the different sizes of User Stories to know where you are at.

Exercise preparation

User story sizes cards

  1. Download User story sizes cards: Download and print the following User Story sizes cards: or .
  2. Names and descriptions: The cards have pairs of a size name and size description. Cut them into single cards and separate them by name cards and description cards.
  3. Two stacks of cards: Put them in a table in two stacks of names and descriptions upside down. You can shuffle each stack of cards.

Board with Goal levels

In a board draw the following by but with no examples. Do not worry, we will not work with use cases, but this memorable goal levels described by Alistair Cockburn in his book Writing Effective Use Cases (Addison-Wesley Professional) will be very useful for understanding user story sizes as well. In fact Jeff Patton describe how useful these goal levels are and the relationship with user stories in his book User Story Mapping.

Use cases goal levels
Use cases goal levels

Steps of the exercise

  1. Connection: In groups of three people discuss what are User stories and the level of requirements.
  2. Two Groups: Tell the attendees to split into two similar groups.
  3. Select: Tell each group to select one of the stack of cards.
  4. Pick cards: Each member of each group must pick one card of the selected stack of cards upside down until the stack is over. If there are less people than cards, some people will pick two or more cards. If there are more people than cards, some can work in pairs or you can print another set of cards and make two pair of groups that work independently.
  5. Find match: Now, there are people with a size name card and people with description cards. Tell them to find who has the corresponding description or size name card for the card they have. Basically, they have to move around the room, talk to all, see all the cards and find matching. Provide minimal help or intervention.

    Pairs of name and description cards
    Pairs of name and description cards
  6. Matches visibility: Once they find a match they can put the story size card its description together in a table.
  7. Valid Solution: The rule to have a valid solution is that attendees agree on it after discussion and it is approved by the facilitator. The facilitator should not tell them how to match them but can say is something is not right. It is the attendees’ duty to discuss until all agree.
  8. Story sizes board: once they agree with the name and description pairs and the solutions is validated by the facilitator, tell them to discuss where they would put each story size in the board of goals levels and paste them in the board at the level they think it is correct. The rule to paste a card in the board is to ask the rest of the attendees if they agree and receive their approval.
  9. Relationships and refinement: Once the goals levels is full of story size cards, tell the attendees to discuss about their relationships and how they would discover each one. Ask them to draw arrows on it to describe. Additionally you can ask them to write a real world example in the board for each size. The final board should something like in the picture:
  10. Conclusion: discuss in groups of three about what they learnt and how these concepts can be applied in their projects.


User Story sizes board (example 1)
User Story sizes board (example 1)
User Story size board (example 2)
User Story size board (example 2)

Other useful exercises for User Stories

Once the story sizes exercise is done and User stories are explained. I also find very useful to facilitate the following great exercises:

: Training exercise to refine and learn to slice User stories.

: A great training exercise to practice slicing and understanding User Story Mapping


This exercise provides a nice understanding of the different sizes and goals that a team must pursue and sometimes they are not aware of. Knowing the different story sizes well is important in order to identify if they still need to refine to thin stories or group them for a given goal and use comfortable levels for user story mapping.

Have questions?

Ignacio Paz

Agile Manager - Solution Manager in Velocity Partners / Chief Professor in “Agile Methodologies” / Professor in Systems Design / CSP / Ignacio has more than 17 years of experience in the Software industry.