Conversation is King with User Story Mapping

User Story Mapping can be regarded as a simple, or unsophisticated approach to software development planning, but normally this is because it is being utilised in a basic manner. All methodologies can be used as a sub-par process resulting in a simple outcome. Instead look at in depth.

In essence, a simple story idea is; write something on a card, talk about it, converse and agree on what to build. Complete the build and move to the next.

It sounds simple, but in a working environment, it is normally vastly more complex. Stories end up going through multiple processes, cycles and conversations. Stories end being created with 3 main needs. A card for the business, a card for the user and a card for the developers. Luckily User Story Mapping is something that can absolutely lend itself to this process.

The Right Size for the Right Story

When writing a User Story Map with a team, you loosely fall into three categories:

  • The user.
  • The business.
  • The developer.

The user’s right size is a story or card that fulfills a need.

The businesses right size is a story which bundles features, outlines updates, themes or new products. First it is set-up as a Minimum Viable Product and following releases are the right size which helps a business achieve a business outcome.

The developer’s right size is the most efficient for designing, building and testing.

Big Stories Break Down to Smaller Stories

Big stories (or epics) can be broken down to smaller stories, and then again even smaller. Each sprint/epic/story/card can be defined for each group but no matter the size, they are still a story.

To break down larger stories, use conversation.

Conversation is one of the best tools for breaking down big stories.

 

Discuss and Discover

When you discuss, break down each story until it fits the “right size”.

Each size will vary from business to business, and project to project, so don’t define too much. Use conversations to allow you to naturally identify the “right size”.

When you discuss, dig deep into:

  • Who the user will use your solution.
  • How the user meet their needs without your solution.
  • How it would change with your solution.
  • How your solution would look and function.
  • How long will your solution take to build.

Even after your discussed discovery session, don’t stop talking, dont stop collaborating.

With each step, each conversation will have different teams and different conversations, in particular, the main three, so do note each evaluation will vary.

Yet with each conversation, each meeting, each get-together, this can lead to slow down, so be aware of how you plan your meetings.

With FeatureMap you are able to construct your maps and have constant, flowing conversation on each card, story or epic. Have your entire team chime in, discuss and do so remotely. Allow this process to be part of the working stage eliminating unnecessary meetings for all and saving time and money.

With each card, story and sprint you design and build, every single card will have consequences, re-explore these, discuss them, confirm them.

Conversation is King with User Story Mapping.

5 Reasons to use User Story Mapping for Project management.

5 Reasons to use User Story Mapping for Project management.

It can be a nightmare when planning out a project or joining a team to plan the project and you are met with Word documents. It is even worse when the customer and your team are expected to settle on the design outline of a word document with no future changes.

Requirements always change as customers and teams discover more about their project as it progresses. Expectations change, development requirements are adjusted, improved upon and developed and tracking all these changes in a Word document leads to madness.

User Story Mapping is a clear-cut methodology that let teams plan software releases that create visual maps of customer requirements. User stories are typically written on sticky notes or developed on a virtual map with absolute collaboration. (FeatureMap).

Here are five reasons why you should utilise User Story Mapping for your next project.

1. Prioritize the most important requirements.

Story maps let teams identify the really important reuqirements, and then allows the team to real-time amend and edit the map with development and feedback. While doable with sticky notes, the interactive collaboration of FeatureMap allows on the fly editing and at a glance live progress.  With a story map, teams can prioritize the most important features first and deliver code based on the prioritized features.

Built in sprints allowing a basic MVP program to be released before moving into sprint 2 and building the next product.

Features can be identify and built in sprints in multiple MVP states with ease, rather than developing one function in its entirety. It allows you to build your function, then at a later stage refines the features across with each iteration. You can easily identify what is most important and what is a core feature. Splits large requirements into small slices

2. Enforces task separation to encourage smaller sprints.

Cards and Post-it notes have literal maximum space. A good habit is born and can be utilised for your User Story Map creation. You have to be brief in the requirement description. If the requirement description is too complex to be stated on a single card, simply break it up into two cards. Create to functions, two tasks which can be split (if required) into multiple sprints.

This again allows the project to be refined and delivered on time with clarity and simplicity.

No more twenty page documents!

3. Communication with the stakeholder.

User Story maps aid with communication with the customer/stakeholder. Each customer requirement is then aligned with a task or card, the customer can understand at a glance what functionality will be delivered with each sprint and release.

With FeatureMap you can create a map for your development team, and share it publically to those with the URL link, the customer will see, real-time of your development map. Alternatively, you can create a map from a map (like cloning) and then share that map as a “snapshot” of the progress. And of course, you can export the map in a multitude of ways.

If the customer wants a feature delivered earlier, the customer can see which stage the feature or card is in and if involved in the process can adjust the map.

See this map as an example: https://www.featuremap.co/mp/5lJ74H/markus-goals

4. Communication with the team to help define and manage trade-offs and objectives.

Potentially the most important benefit. Using a User Story Mapping map will boost communication and discussion. Visual thinking is common in approximately 60%–65% of the general population, leaning on statistically your team will benefit too.

Having this visual aid and 2D map will reveal questions of all participants in the early phases of the project, which will lead to more quality and faster product backlog creation.

This will allow you as a Project Manager to keep on top of trade-offs and manage features and the project objective.

Communication helps define projects with ease

5. Visualisation of the entire Roadmap

A story map can focus the stakeholder and team to see a snippet. It can reduce that 200-page word document of completed tasks, or charts of completed tasks to a visual map of completed sprints and planned development.

The focus is smaller and the stakeholder can visually understand the requirements being delivered in the first release, second release and subsequent releases. The stakeholder can pay more attention to the relevant requirements (and requirements always change).

The customer can see the first release and following releases at a glance

The customer here can see the current release and the solving of an issue, but can also tell at a simple glance that the “even better mega solution” is in the next release.

User Story Mapping can be utilised in a multitude of ways. Project Managers can step in and compliment their planning with a digital version of User Story Mapping and work with the team, developers, customers, and even users for feedback.

If you want to learn more about building a project we recommend “easily testable” to “useable” then to “loveable” rather than building a broken bike in all stages. Read more in our Idea to MVP.

If you wish to learn more about FeatureMap check out our Intro to Story Mapping – RoadMap.

Intro to Story Mapping – Product Roadmap

A story user map can be used as a method for visually outlining your roadmap for your product.

We started this intro to story mapping with a basic run down and a simple exercise taking you through the morning tasks and making a map. Now we will look at how to outline your roadmap. Also don’t forget to check out some good practises in going from Idea to MVP.

If you are following the intro, you’ll have looked at how to outline your feature definition.

In our case study we are going to look at “Movie Buddy”. The Initial MVP was to generate an app which could be used to manage your DVD collection.

The first step is to identifiy your main goal, in this case it was “Manage my DVD Collection”

The next layer introducing tasks and we identified 4 main features.

  • Add a DVD to my collection
  • Browser DVDs in collection
  • Find a DVD in collection
  • View/Edit DVD info

From here we were able to fill in further details for each card in our first sprint.

Movie Buddy first MVP

The horizontal sprint delimits the first iteration we implemented from stories,  from ideas and how we chose to postpone features for a further iteration. We chose to implement the backbone for the main features and come back later to add details and fine-tunings.

From here we moved to the next step and that was expanding our features. You can see we have expanded a colum to the right (in green.)

We wanted to introduce a social element, a movie recommendation feature.

Now to add cards to this next sprint we needed a new horizontal layer, so adding sprint 2 (in purple) this allowed us to identify what improvements we wanted to add to our core back-bone features.

Expanding to sprint 2

You can see how with each new column of improvements and with each deployment of your application (or version) you can develop and expand your application using a simple user story map.

At a glance you can see which features are implemented, or which features are set to be implemented down the road.

In this example it was decided that the “Get Movies Recommendations” section was a good hit and so the idea was expanded. In addition our users wanted to expand our core backbone and introduce scanning of barcodes of DVD’s to identify it in our database.

We realised we could scan DVD’s by barcode, but taking photos of the cover would need extra work so we seperated the sprints, in addition we also wanted to improve our management of favourite directors/actors by allowing recommendations on directors but that would take time. This was also added to the later sprint.

Moving features down to another Sprint

This left us with our final idea and roadmap for the coming development cycles.

Notes

 

When designing a roadmap from your MVP it is okay to place down expanded ideas and the best features you can imagine. A user Story Map is designed to allow you to see the overall roadmap, the big picture, the ideal application.

Taking that application can then allow you and your team to arrange the features, arrange the sprints, split the application up to version and settle, together, with an ideal roadmap.

We have the MovieBuddy Map here if you want to see the completed MovieBuddy Map.

Intro to Story Mapping – Feature Definition

A story user map is a method for visually covering a story, to help discussions. The main purpose for making  a map is to build shared understanding for the individuals of a team.

We started this intro to story mapping with a basic run down and a simple exercise taking you through the morning tasks and making a map. Now we will look at how to define features in a product.

When you first start off it is best to have an idea of the ideal product, but have not yet started on your product roadmap. Instead start with the user’s normal workflow (minus the app or software) and figure out how to translate that flow into a product experience.

Below I have outlined an example case study of arranging a conference with the persona of the organiser and board member.

The team sat down and exchanged tasks, goals and ideas. We then started to construct a story map based on the conference organiser’s first set of responsbilities and workflow.

Conference Organiser Workflow

After the initial workflow you will notice the goal at the top linked to the persona.

The main activities are in the first row, divided into further tasks in each column which details each activity.

On a card we have further detail such as:

Detail on a card with checklist

After we established the conference organiser’s tasks we then expanded the story map to include the expanded responsibilities and workflow of the entire Team.

Workflow of the organiser and speakers

With this map now completed we can see the user workflow and what features we need defined.

Check out our completed map.

Next from this map we can develop and build a product roadmap.

Check in next week and have an introduction to designing our first MVP roadmap. Also check out from idea to MVP, a seperate article about building from the idea to the MVP.

Quick intro to Story Mapping

A story user map is a method for visually covering a story, to help discussions. The main purpose for making  a map is to build shared comprehension for the individuals of a team.

When building your story map, you should include all the relevent people, regardless of position, in the team. Due to their different foundations and interests, they all get valuable points of view. Everybody has an unmistakable and common comprehension of what they are about to build together.

Product owner, testers, technical lead, customer support, architect, UX/UI designer, sales and marketing, etc. All have their own techniques and requirements which will help you create your map.

How to build a story map

If you are brand new to user story mapping, we have a short and sweet exercise. Let’s take a simple real-life example of “getting ready for work”.

The StoryMap of Alex’s Morning
  1. Start with the goal.
    What is the story map about?
    What are you trying to accomplish?
    The main overall purpose.
  2. Second list your main stories, your main tasks or activities. From left to right, insert the main steps of the story map that need to happen.
  3. Move on and detail each main list – column by column, left to right.

In the case of product features, the layers can be then developed and you can plan out MVP‘s, or product iterations with each following layer.

When exploring product features, build story maps for multiple options that solve the underlying problem. Allow your entire team to contribute and come to and understanding of the final decision.

Story User Maps are ideal for allowing a team to design out a product feature and reduce the need to go back half way through development because XYZ requirement was missed out.

Check out our Getting Ready For Work Map

We cover three different user-case situations we can use Story Mapping.

Feature Definition

Product Roadmap

 

How to re-write your Legacy Application using Story Mapping

People often mistake User Story Mapping as a tool to start projects, but it is entirely suitable for building up an old project or design.

When looking at your application it is easy to first create  User Story Map based on the products functions.

Establish the tasks, the goals and flesh out the map. Sometimes you may taken things for granted and forget certain tools of the application are actually tasks so it’s a good idea to bring in people from other teams to help identify all the functions of your project.

Build the map, identifiying all the functions.

We once took an old tool and needed to update the codebase, as well as introduce new features and improvements.

A few options may be available to you, depending on the code. Are you able to update the tool in sections? Are you able to approach the update in sprints/versions? Do you need to rebuild the entire program from scratch?

We first built the map of our tool, you can see below our “Moviebuddy” example.

The Moviebuddy Current Version

We then worked through identifying which sections were redundant. We identified these and added them to a new column to the side. Essentially removing them from view.

We then talked out and identified which parts of the code would be updated and what we could do first. We labelled this as version 1 and aimed to get the core functions updated.

Identifying what we should upgrade first in Version 1

We were able to identify one function which we were able to upgrade. We also added new cards which reminded us to update our code standards and highlighted them green to ensure they were completed.

We then moved along to the next version which allowed us to introduce our new payment gateway to the application. A function that had alluded us due to the old codebase.

Adding a new Codebase column and moving to version 1.5

This allowed us to deploy more frequently and provide value sooner as we updated sections of the site. We still had a lot of ‘old legacy code’ but as we added new features we moved the legacy code functions inline with our updates.

As you can see using User Story Mapping can be brand new projects, or old existing projects.

Moviebuddy is all fictional for the purpose of training.

 

User Story Mapping : From Idea to MVP

When we look at User Story Mapping, you may think of the backlog of user stories, or how it can be a great methodolgy to reduce and refine your current project or product flow. But User Story Mapping doesn’t just need to be a tool applied to a backlog heavy project. It can be used to refine an idea to a product.

Refine the Idea

Take the product and ask yourself and your team these questions:

  1. What is the overall idea?
  2. Who are the customers?
  3. Who are the end users?
  4. Why would they want it?
  5. Why are we building it?

Find out what the project and product is for, validate your reasoning, search for problems, take the steps now to refine your idea.

Build to Learn

With the initial idea fleshed out, first build your product with the aim to learn. A less than MVP (Minimum Viable Product), a product that covers the simple basis for your users.

With this stage you do not want to market, push or give out the product as “The product” but to a small group of users. Ideally users you spoke to initally that may have sparked the idea of the product.

As part of this step you need to harvest the feedback, and constantly refine your idea. Build wants but be care ful to actually listen to what the user wants.

At this stage metrics will help as it is common people will fall into a loose three categories:

  1. The Polite Enabler. — The user who says everything is great, but doesnt use the product.
  2. The Complainer. — The user who sends in lists of feedback and demands, but actually uses the product.
  3. The Mute. — The user who uses the product and says nothing.

The polite user is probably the worst for building to learn, with the complainer being your favourite user. However be careful the complainer is not just demanding features that detract or do nothing.

The Mute you’ll need to reach out, engage and ask for feedback with offered incentives. The mute can be valuable.

Applying to Story Mapped Backlog

You now have your project released, some feedback and ideas of how to take it from big idea to big success.

We recommend organising a horizontal strip of User Actitives. You will have this from the first step, and the questions. This will form the backbone and be the foundation of your map.

Below in vertical strips arrange into three tiers:

  • Current Relase
  • Next Release(s)
  • Future Ideas

Each card will have indepth details about the feature.

Example Layout in FeatureMap.co

Then when organised, take the highest priority stories or layers and move into the current sprint.

This is one great way to take Idea to MVP.

Common Pitfalls

I might write a piece entirely about the pitfalls I see new projects and products fall to when designing their story map and MVP.

  1. Perfection — When designing a product do not focus and lose yourself to the “Just one more feature” which adds time and bloat to inital ideas.
  2. Make a skateboard first — When making a car, first design a skateboard that allows the user to at least get somewhere. Do not fall into the trap of building car parts with no method to go.

To illustrate this Henrik Kniberg wrote an article talking about how he prefers “Earliest Testable/Usable/Lovable” over MVP.

Validate your MVP

When designing your product, each sprint sent to product should be reviewed, measured and with feedback and data — learn.

With that learn knowledge refine your idea.

With that refined idea, revamp your MVP and build.

  • Build — MVP
  • Measure — Get feedback and data
  • Refine — Improve with better ideas
  • Repeat — Back to Build.

With User Story Mapping this is easy, especially when using a tool like FeatureMap.co as the ease and flow of a team all working, moving and adjusting cards on the fly makes it invaluable.

Story Mapping Can Help Your Team Understand

When working with a large organisation it is not uncommon for everyone to picture the product in different ways.

When you have multiple smaller teams come together to create a product, each team can have different requirements. This can clog up development and in some instances waste time, building the same features in multiple different ways.

A few years ago I was assisting in the development of a now-popular mobile app. The team of designers all had different ideas on the end goal and it wasn’t until we mapped the entire user story that this was realised.

Confused Team Mapping Out Individual Requirements

The managers wanted to see a CRM in the backend that would allow them to see the flow of products and users and to manage the support workers and content creators.

The content creators wanted to have a CRM in the backend that allowed them to edit, create and update articles and products.

The sales team wanted to have a map system that would allow users to find a product based on location.

Shared Understanding with a Shared Vision

When we put all three together we could see an overlap of two different CRM systems and a product completely overlooked by the other teams.

Mapping your story helps you find holes in your thinking.

When we set out and built an entire wall, it was clear that each team had a different idea. Once they were able to list each card across the map, teams merged ideas, worked on the initial idea and framed the entire product.

Once the ideas had been merged, expanded and realised, the team was able to expand their understanding to a shared understanding.

Shared MVP Achieved With Understanding

The team were then able to split up their design into a minimum viable product that successfully achieved the desired outcome.

Sadly, it was realised that months had been wasted on planning features of a project with no compatiblity with the rest of the team.

Fortunately, when creating their product on FeatureMap (even linking with remote team members across the world) they were able to hash out a new plan and deliever well within time.

Mapping your story helps with shared understanding.

Story Mapping: A Reliable Agile Tool

When it comes to backlogs it can be overwhelming, difficult to grasp where we should go, or what we should prioritise. At times projects are entirely sidetracked by mismanagement of priorities.

To solve these situations a Story Map can be utilised to reduce the backlog, refocus the project and remind the entire team of the end goal.

When designing a Story Map you must look at the bigger picture. It is often sensible to set aside a period of time (hours or days) to effectively cover the vision.

You will need to set out the goals of the entire product, the ideals, the dreams, think big. To best utilise Story Mapping is the big picture, not just a sprint. Do not fall into the trap of a niche narrow sprint at this stage.

First write out the user stories by setting out functions.

Step 1 — Functions and user stories set out in a grid.

Horizontally, set out the title and set the user story under each function.
Vertically, set out the main stories or issues related to each other.

At this stage you can then prioritise importance from left to right, and from up to down. This creates a format of the top left card, being the most important.

Slicing the list.

Once the stories are organised into groups and themes. You can start with slicing the list into sprints of what is the Minimum Viable Spec, or as Jeff Patton puts it — “The minimium viable product in the smallest product releaes that successfully achieves its desired outcomes”.

Step 2 — You can see the sprints have seperated, clearly, what functions are required in each layer.

You can set sprints into what you need to achieve. The trick of utilising story mapping is by setting out the entire dream product, then breaking your product/project into sections of achievable, working, and required sprints.

Next Steps.

Do remember, the story map is not a static beast, it can be adjusted, amended with feedback, changed and adapted to suit the needs of each sprint.

With multiple team members working on it, as a team you can start to see the end goal, the ideal product and when working as a group you will be able to clearly define what each of you need. Too often I see teams all have an idea in their head turn out to be all differing versions.

  • Set status of a card
  • You can set time estimations
  • Set importance of cards
  • Use colours to set a custom identifier, such as challenge or complexity.
  • Use extra columns and set sections

The use of a story map will grow with each iteration, and with each demand.

Step 3 — Expanded map with colours, rags, and time estimations.

One thing is to ensure you are always planning the entire project, clearing backlog and not focusing on individual sprints.

If you want to see the tool we used for the images, check out FeatureMap.co