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Seann Hicks

Agile Scientist and Software Developer

What Are The 3 C's Of User Stories

The 3 C's of User Stories, Card, Conversation and Confirmation are a process that User Stories progress through to prepare them for building.

Seann Hicks

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What are the 3 C’s of User Stories

The quick answer is:

  • Card (the initial feature idea)
  • Conversation (team discussion to reach shared understanding)
  • Confirmation (what done looks like - Acceptance Criteria)

The 3Cs were first used to describe the User Story process by Ron Jeffries in “Extreme Programming Installed”.


Card represents the initial idea, written on a recipe card. Recipe cards are a great size for a User Story. The front can be used for the title, user story text, and poker point estimate (See Planning Poker). The back of the card works for details like acceptance criteria. The size of the card forces teams to keep stories small.

The Card is written by the Product Owner or the Business Value Team.

If the card includes the story title and user story, why do we need the other Cs? Isn’t this enough? A User Story is described as a placeholder for a conversation. This means that it does not, and should not contain all the information required to build it. Enter, conversation.


The next stage is conversation. Once the story is written, it’s time to work towards the real goal of User Stories, which is achieving a shared understanding amongst the team and stakeholders. This is done collaboratively and interactively. Questions and solution suggestions, examples of other implementations anything the team might be wondering makes up this conversation.

In my experience, Planning Poker is the first big conversation involving the whole team where the probing questions get asked. Because the team has to provide an estimate a shared understanding is critical to get consensus.

Story conversations are about working together to arrive at a best solution to a problem we both understand (User Story Mapping, p.94)


The confirmation step is where the common understanding is solidified. The solution has implications for the estimate so I’ll add solution assumptions and sometimes requirements assumptions about what is in and out of scope in Planning Poker sessions.

Acceptance Criteria is also part of confirmation. Acceptance Criteria describes the box around the scope of the story. This is usually a checklist of things that can be demonstrated to show done-ness. If you have QA professionals on the team, they can help immensely with acceptance criteria as it looks a lot like test cases.

While there is invariably a lot of solution discussion happening, try to keep the solution open until the Sprint Planning meeting. This is known as the last responsible moment. Keep your options open and be agile by allowing for new solution ideas.


It isn’t enough to write a User Story and add it to a backlog. In order to prepare a story to be pulled into a Sprint to be built, the team needs a common understanding of the story. This is what the 3Cs of User Stories are all about. Similar to the Definition of Done, a User Story can be measured against a definition of ready, which it will need to go through the 3Cs to meet.

Sources Cited

  • “User Story Mapping - Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product”, Jeff Patton, O’Reilly Media Inc., 2014
  • “Extreme Programming Installed”, Ron Jeffries, Ann Anderson, Chet Hendrickson, The XP Series, 2000

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