Product Owner Skills: What Do We Need?

It is essential that Product Owners in 2021 have a wide variety of skills. Soft skills (skills that are hard to measure) and hard skills (easily defined and specific skills).

Soft skills (such as communication, leadership, and creativity) and hard skills (like sales, data handling, and proficiency with development tools) both help create the best Product Owner. Gaining experience and knowledge in both skills is challenging and rewarding, but the soft skills are naturally harder to define and therefore harder to measure improvement.

Product Owners Boost your soft skills and enhance your collaboration, leadership and creativity with FeatureMap.

The role of a Product Owner is to lead, defines the work flow of the project, organize and prioritize the backlog of the team and streamline the project while maintaining the conceptual and technical integrity of the product. Heaps of hard skills, glued together with that all important management of individuals via soft skills.

A product owner can however help themselves with the use of Tools which complement and enhance those soft skills. User Story Mapping, and the use of creating a map and running a mapping session with the entire team, can really help boost and compliment your backlog management or project planning.

In LinkedIn’s ‘The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020’, the top three soft skills are creativity, persuasion and collaboration. Three top skills that are required in Product Owners and Project Management.

With User Story Mapping and FeatureMap, you can give your creativity a boost as you create a map with ease, layout your product in easy organized cards, columns and utilizing the basic Agile design. Linking in immediately you can super up your collaboration as you bring your team members onto the board, and your entire broader team can fill in their own user story journeys, discussing and building a map together.

Seeing the bigger, larger, broader view of a project gives your decision-making and leadership a boost.

With the broader view, and bigger picture, you can give your persuasion and leadership that supported weight and sell your decisions to your team and stakeholders.

As a Digital Product Owner, you are at the helm of the product.

You will be the one responsible for ensuring the product is on track, and the product vision has been achieved.

You will be responsible for influencing cross-functional teams.

Why not give yourself a secret weapon?

Story Mapping: A Reliable Agile Methodolgy

User Story Mapping - A Reliable Agile Methodology

Story Mapping consists of ordering a project or product into tasks and organising each one into segments so you can better understand the whole picture and make better informed decisions for timelines, resources and roadmaps.

Such tools as Trello can be great for tasks or quick lists, but when you need more than a just columns. User Story Mapping utilises an agile methodolgy, incorporates sprints and gives you a broader view across the entire project.

When it comes to backlogs it can feel overwhelming, in some cases difficult to grasp how to start or what to prioritise. At times projects can be entirely sidetracked by mismanagement of priorities and a good Story Map of a product can highlight the Minimum Viable Project.

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. We have some further in depth guides and resources to read up which are linked again at the bottom of this article. But for now.. we’ll cover the basics as an intro to why Story Mapping is a reliable Agile Tool.

We have guides all across this blog, but to get you straight into it, lets do a quick theory crafting test.

You will need to set out the broad goals of the entire product… the ideals, the dreams, think big.

To best utilise Story Mapping is to tackle the entire big picture, not just a singular sprint. Do not fall into the trap of a niche narrow sprint at this stage. The power of User Story Mapping is being able to see the entire product and split it up into those sprints. To see what can the MVP, what can be the optimal, and even split the big picture into easy acessible projects.

First write out the user stories by setting out functions.

The fuctions could be “Logging in” or “Website Dev” or “Graphics Design”.

The limit is based on how you wish to organise. We suggest basic, and start simple as the beauty of working on a tool with many is the ability to adjust and change at will.

Good rules to follow:
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.

Once you have the information down in cads and across the board. Start to slice.

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 releases 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.

Wait… are we done already?

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

With multiple team members working on it, as a team, you can start to see the end goal, the ideal product. When working as a group you will be able to clearly define what each of you need.

Too often I have seen teams all have an idea in their head, start with a map and quickly realise their shared vision was mismatched!

The simple act of making the map together re-aligned with everyone on the same page, generated new innovations and removed any potential future unnecessary friction.

Next Steps.

Some more tips for the next steps:

  • 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, descriptions, checklists, status, and time estimations.

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

And all of a sudden you have a grasp of your project.

It really is that simple.

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

How to create a user story map in 7 steps

User story mapping is an agile methodology with a focus on product design/development. It doesn’t stop there, but in this article we’ll focus on product design. Designing with user story mapping is one of the secret weapons to create a user-centered product. The product design process always begins with first understanding the problem and the user’s goals. The power of this, is the ability to spec out multiple users, mulitple goals and clearly display our entire process whilst following a natural, narrative flow of the users journey.

User Story Mapping can be narrowed down to organising user goals, activities, and user stories. This can help your product flow or backlog and create an visual backlog, that everyone understands.

Why is it important to create a User Story Map for your project?

  • Your customers need a simple way to confirm product goals.
  • Your teammates benefit from such a straightforward platform.
  • Teammates can get access to the entire scope and see and add valuable ideas.
  • Developers can see the entire specification for the product.

To sum up, user story maps are the visual aid to building shared understanding between project members.

Creating a user story map can take time, but you can follow a pretty clear and logical process, with a good efficient start you’ll be ahead in no-time. This could be a solo task, but to the absolute advantage of a user story map is to use it as a tool to have discussions with your wider team team.

 

What you’ll need: Grab your team, your VOIP of choice, boot up a brand new Map (Create from scratch) and sit back with a meeting blocked out for the team.

Do note, this is not a presentation but an involved group activity, so be mindful of voip etiquette.

 

Step 1: Frame the journey

Before you start mapping, you want to frame the exercise around a common goal. This could be your product vision or the goal of a specific feature you’re mapping out.

One of the simplest ways to do this is just to ask: What does our product do?

If this feels too big or gets too unwieldy, think about some constraints you can add to your user story mapping session:

  • What? – What problem are you trying to solve? What product do you want to build or what feature do you want to add?
  • Who? – Is there a specific user or user group you’re building for? Who are your potential customers?
  • Why? – Why build this for the user? What is the benefit to your team and company for building this feature or product? How will giving users this add value to the bottom line?

Talk it through and make sure everyone understands the vision and overarching goal of the user story mapping session.

Be aware, you may find such varied views from each other this may outline some sticking points from the get go!

 

Step 2: Build your story backbone

The backone of your map covers the entire journey described in high-level tasks or steps from start to finish. Don’t get too detailed, that comes at a later task. Go wide, not tall. Discover your goals and map your journey.

As an example, let’s say we’re building a product that helps someone buy a record track. At the highest level, the steps they take are:

  1. Sign up for an account
  2. Search for the track by genre/year/artists/album
  3. View/listen to the song track
  4. Enter payment information
  5. Buy track
  6. Download track
  7. Interact with social/stars/review of track.

Each feature or step can get more indepth later and expand out with sub headings, cards and individual descriptions.

Your product is probably a lot more complex. Here are few ways to help identify your backbone:

  • The expert details the journey: Ask one of the subject matter experts to walk through the problem step-by-step. How do they tackle this? What steps do they take and what tasks do they perform?
  • Everyone creates cards and inputs on the map: As you create cards on FeatureMap, get each familiar team member writing their own cards and detailing their journeys. Everyone can input the steps that need to be taken and add them to the map. Don’t worry about duplicates now, as this may highlight misunderstandings or merge tasks to a better project flow.
  • Brainstorm with your team to collect the most possible solutions and put all user stories under the related steps.

Once complete, think about the ideal user flow. The use case. Does the map fit and cover all steps for the journey?

What if you’re working with an existing backlog? If you have a backlog full of well-written user stories you can simply add them into your map. In some cases, this might even be the majority of your steps and you could utilise an API, or import features from JIRA or Trello.

 

Step 3: Identify and group your cards

As you look through the steps your user takes, you’ll start to notice some common groups, or activities that could be placed within groupings. In user story mapping, we call these activities.

Your activities (also known as user stories at this stage) are listed above the user steps (or epics) to make up your backbone.

As an example, lets return to our previous product of buying a record track. Here we can build out a step:

  • Search for a track by genre/year/artists/album

We can break this into individual cards of:

  • Search for a track
  • Search for an artist
  • Search for an album
  • Search within a genre
  • Search for a genre
  • Search tracks within a year, or a specific year.

You can see how these could all be individual tasks with a group of “Search for a track”. Here we can, with relative ease, start to identify user steps, user stories that all correlate to a user goal.

User Goal/Activity – Find a Track.
User Step/Epic – Search
User Story/Card – Search for an artist, then search for a track.

 

Step 4: Break large tasks into subtasks

It’s time to go a step deeper. The cards in your backbone are most likely too big to be tackled in a realistic single sprint. This step covers breaking down those cards and activities into smaller groupings and user stories.

Step 4 involves your team editing cards, splitting them into two, rewriting and reorganising them. Cards here could be reorganised and moved around the map. Placing cards into activities/sections/groupings will making it clearer for all involved promoting that shared understanding.

One key point of advice – Do Not Get Bogged Down!

FeatureMaps and User Story Maps are living, breathing things, cards get developed, edited, added to and when first mapping out the entire user story aim to cover it all at a higher level scope first.

Step 5: Fill in missing tasks.

This step has you expanding, checking for missing task, filling in the blanks.

Ask your teams if they are covered and user story is represented no the map.

One simple and effective test is to have someone walk through the scenario from a different user perspective. This is what is called utilising Personas. Act out the steps as your user and allow the team to highlight when missing steps/cards/goals are not on the map and have them add them.

Each department will see this differently, for example the graphics and UX design team may differ on presentation while the coders are thinking about stacks and the sales team are thinking about pain points and upselling.

If a team member states “Ah ha, this is missing or may cause problems…” then this stage is doing well.

Step 6: Prioritise your activities and cards.

Your Map and backbone is how your users move through your product. Each section at this high level are equally important, building blocks to the entire product/project.

Here you can easily see the whole picture and work with your team to find the best minimal viable product. This stage is ideal to figure out what has the highest priority, while allowing other sections to be put aside.. for now.

Now that you have the user map prioritised vertically, you can create horizontal “layers” that represent your MVP to Full release.

A good practice is to ensure that each layer should be creating value across each user and activity.

Step 7: Maintain your Map.

The last step covers using your living, breathing, evolving map.

Checking up your progress, see quickly the wider picture of your team.

Ensuring cards and tasks stay on track, assign deadlines to individual tasks and adjust work flow carefully.

In FeatureMap you can assign dates to tasks, cards or groups to keep track of progress.

You can assign cards to individual team members, and add progress status to each card, such as “todo, progress, done, etc”

You can expand and add timings or costings, or other custom metrics and utilise the aggregation tool which allows you to see the combined time within each sprint, grouping, or the larger map.

Audio Finder – A Fictitious Project about finding audio tracks and downloading them. Viewed as a User Story Mapping Board on FeatureMap.co

You can view the example map here, where we have enabled public sharing to allow anyone outside the team to view: https://www.featuremap.co/mp/aRV8c0/audio-finder-project

Maintaining a User Story Map will allow you to continue with an organised approach, power up your management and team communication.

If you want to see more guides, check out some other blog posts, or if you want to see another example – check out Movie Buddy Map.

Get started now for free right here.

Story Mapping Can Help Your Team Understand – Remote Offices in 2021

Shared Understanding - A buzzword to describe group knowledge

When working with a large organisation it is not uncommon for everyone to picture the product from different angles, resulting in an understanding of the project or product in different ways. Story Mapping can help your team understand, bring those meetings to the digital and allow your remote working team to gain that shared understanding.

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 or two different features due to a bad understanding of the spec. These teams could be in the same office, or spread across the world. The challenge and solution is the same.

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 conflict of understanding. Two different CRM systems and a product completely overlooked by the other teams, with overlapping cards.

Without using a FeatureMap Board, this error may have gone unnoticed for an unspecified amount of time.

Cut down your time and mismanagement, introduce a macro level understanding and make your job easier managing your team. If you are a team member, you can understand the entire project/product and figure exactly how best to utilise all talents and input.

Mapping your story helps you find holes in your thinking.

When we set out and built an entire map, 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.

When starting with FeatureMap, it doesn’t matter if you are mid project, or at the start of a new journey.

Mapping out the entire product, even at a high level macro level will help your entire team progress forward.

You can start with FeatureMap today for free, with an instant 2 week trial to access all the extra features such as aggregation, import, export, enhanced status cards and alike.

Scrumban, Kanban, Scrum, Agile, You can do it all.

Over the last 10 years (probably more) the boom of Agile methodology has continued to rise with the need to harness a high performing, high impacting workforce. Project nanagers, teams and companies have adapted its methodologies and the search and battle of Scrum Vs Kanban has become a well known and familiar comparison.

Scrum, and Kanban are two methodologies that come under the wide umbrella of Agile Methodology, both have benefits and drawbacks, but combining the pair has led to some success but still retains its overall pitfalls. Over the last year the move to remote working has become a necessity for many work forces.

Scrumban involves applying Kanban principles to a team’s Scrum framework. Scrumban removes some of the more rigid aspects of Scrum and leaves teams to develop their own adaptation which can give a huge varied experience.

So what do the two methodology bring?

Scrum

  • Fixed requirement.
  • Improves team involvement.
  • Allows to track project workflow.
  • Repeated work cycles.
  • Deadline.

Scrum is an Agile framework that is designed to focus on maximizing the team’s ability to deliver quickly, to respond to emerging requirements. Common practice is to explore and set a fixed requirement to tie in with the fixed deadline. The Scrum process requires the use of fixed-length development cycles called sprints, which usually last between 1-4 weeks.

Scrum came about in the late 1980s, as a commercial product, self described as “a new approach to commercial product development to increase speed and flexibility”.

Scrum teams are designed to be small, cross-functional, and self-organizing. Teams split work into small, shippable product increments, and sort the work by priority and relative effort. The product owner selects all work to be done in a sprint at one time, then the team spends each sprint completing the work.

How a typical Scrum board looks in FeatureMap.co

Scrum Board at FeatureMap
Using the basic features of FeatureMap as a Scrum Sprint Board.

Kanban

  • No overproduction of tasks.
  • Flexibility.
  • Limit Work in Progress (eliminate waste and people focus).

Kanban was introduced by Toyota in the 1940s, and was largely used in the manufacturing world as a visual workflow management methodology. Work items are represented by cards on a board, with rows that represent process steps. Boards are used by teams to manage the collective work of the team. They minimize chaos and promote focus by explicitly limiting how many items are in process at any given time, using a tool called WIP (work-in-process) limits.

Teams practicing Kanban measure lead time (average time from when work is requested to when it is finished) and optimize their processes to improve lead time, with the goal of achieving a continuous, predictable flow of value to their customers.

The downside of Kanban is how it is based around manufacturing, and as such has strict and inflexible method of change as it assumes a stable product flow.

How a board of Kanban looks in FeatureMap.co

Using the basic features of FeatureMap as a Kanban Production Board.

So why would you be interested in Scrumban?

Scrum + Kanban

Scrumban combines the structure of Scrum with the flow-based methods of Kanban. So what of Scrum is incorporated into the Scrumban method:

  • Iteration planning at regular intervals.
  • Decide work load in each sprint based on the complexity of the work and the length of the sprint
  • Extended Board
  • Prioritization on demand
  • Use “Next/Ready” column to help organise.
  • A fixed deadline helps identify and focus work flow.

Kanban adds visualization, process, and flow. These are the elements of Kanban that are used by Scrumban teams:

  • Pull items into Doing adapting to the teams capacity
  • Individual roles are flexible.
  • WIP limits: Limits on how many items are in the backlog and progress.
  • Short lead times – just-in-time in stead of batches.
  • Focus more on deadline adaptability to the WIP and MVP.
  • Clearer step transitions

In a Scrumban Board you can see the merger of both Scrum and Kanban headers:

Backlog (Queue)On the Deck (This Spring)Next (Ready)SpecifySpecifiedDoing (Development/Active)Pending Testing (Approval)Testing (QA)DeploymentDone
An example merge of the kanban and scrum headers to make the ideal scrumban.

Scrumban boards are taking the best bits of Kanban and Scrumban, but is this enough?

The FeatureMap solution

A Scrumban board can hit some of your goals, and if you are looking and wanting more, FeatureMap offers a hybrid solution of Kanban, Scrum, and User Story Mapping. The tool can hit all the marks and is entirely flexible. In fact in some scenarios so flexible it can be daunting to the unprepared how best to utilise this powerful tool.

Scrumban is useful when it is difficult to predict the amount of work. It is useful with combining flexibility, adaptability and monitoring tools of Scrum, and a Kanban board.

FeatureMap adds that extra tool, how to map the entire product with your team, online and with tools and access to Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban or your own hybrid method.

You can combine the best of both worlds, with a scrum board and carefully not mixing the cards, but at the same time using layers to retain a sense of roadmap, listing prioirites. An enhanced scrumban board with more dimensions.

Want a card to have tasks? – Done
Want a card to be assigned to an individual to track? – Done
Want to have priorities, colours and custom status tracking on all cards? – Done
Want to assign an entire row, column or grouping to an individual to team? – Done
Want to change the entire map on the fly for a better solution? – Done
Want an aggregation feature to show pricing, timing or estimations on cards below and groupings above? – Done
Integration? On-Premise? REST API? – Done

FeatureMap is not limited to a scrum, or column only approach. It is not limited to a kanban outline. It was originally designed by engineers for their own products. It later took off and became its own self sustaining application based on Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping methodology. Taking the persona of the target individual, audience, market, requirement and building the demand of a project/map/product around that.

But lets keep to the Scrumban design and restrict ourselves to the standard flow.

FeatureMap utilising the hybrid approach of Scrumban, Kanban and Scrum

On this board we have split the flow of the transition from left to right into 4 main columns.

Within each column:

First the backlog, set tasks that are known or in discussion, set here and at a high level, placed in a loose month set. The queue of tasks to be arranged.

Secondly the Development column is split into 4 different states – blocked, progress, pending and confirmed. These represent the flow of coding, or manufacturing. You can see in these cards two icons of myself, a little face which represents the card being assigned to me, so I receive notifications of comments, checklists, dates and status updates.

Third, the QA section is simply split to “To review” and “Verified”, so tasks can flow from developed, to quality assurance. and ready to be reviewed. In the screenshot above, you can see one card highlighted in yellow. With FeatureMap any card can be highlighted a variety of colours, easy to draw attention or to be set for a predetermined meanings.

Fourth and finally, the last section lists “Delivered” an area for final review from the project lead, to accept and sign off completion.

As well as the main “June” horizontal layer, we can see multiple layers of dates, June, July, and “Later” which can also be adjusted on the fly by various teams to move cards up and down, dynamically with their expected

FeatureMap can be utilised as a tool for more than User Story Mapping. It can be a tool for bringing your project and tool under control, and with an advantage.

FeatureMap offers multiple solutions, but for this case. It’s the perfect Scrumban solution.

The Customer Facing Story Mapping Solution

In 2020, the pandemic forced businesses to adapt and move to to remote solutions, projects had to revisit back logs with adjustments from the physical to the digital.

With that came the need to communicate and work with clients and customers remotely. Luckily User Story Mapping is the perfect method to visually cover the entire scope of the project/product, to help discussions, and gain a shared understanding direclty with your client.

When building your story map, you should include all the relevant people, regardless of position.

Each member invited will offer different foundations and interests, they will all offer unique and valuable points of view. A User Story Map is used to map out what you, as developers or managers think about when it comes to the user’s experience.

Bring in your Client

This advanced tactic is to involve the customer/client with a map designed as a Customer facing Story Map.

Customers have probably seen roadmaps, or gannt charts in the past but to truly involve a customer with your plan of development or project outline is to utilise a Story Map. A Story Map can show your progress with a beautiful planned out snapshot. Allow your client to choose where to zone in and understand.

In the example below,  we took our Moviebuddy map, a fictional product which helps you arrange and organise your DvD collection and had our development team plan out the requirements for each user story. We needed to share with our client what exactly we planned and if our vision was shared.

The Moviebuddy Current Version

A tool such as FeatureMap, used to share your product design lends more value to the customer, as it is always online, available to view and offer feedback.

When should I use a customer facing story map?

When sharing story maps with customers, it is important to iterate that a story map is not a roadmap, it is a living, breathing, evolving workflow. One day you may have features and functions set for the next release and the very next day it could be bumped up, down or adjusted.

The value of such a map is measured not only in the transparency of your dev team and work, but the process of your dev team.

In one such instance, we saw a knowledgeable member of the public witness a planned feature who then recommended an alternative method and offered code, for free. Through sharing your Story Map the project was assisted by a passionate user.

In another instance, a video game developer shared their planned game development, their beta and was able to get thousands of players to see the progress, suggest plans and help develop an ideal release. The access to so many eyes of potential customers, potential users was invaluable for feedback and further development.

Story Mapping evolves and changes. If your customers struggle with the methodology it is probably wise to have two maps, one for devs, and one for the customers. You can set one to private, for your team and shareholders who can work through it and have a public shared customer facing map which encourages feedback, and interaction. We advise experimenting with the entirely public facing single map first.

As such we advise involving a customer as soon as possible.

How to make the map public with FeatureMap?

When on your FeatureMap, click the top right blue spanner icon:

Then below you’ll have your options pop up.

Here you can click “Make map public”.

Do note you can click this button again “Make map private” to remove your public access link.

Make your map public.

Once public you’ll be able to share the URL and add this to your emails, webpage or direct as links.

To see an example demo map check here: https://www.featuremap.co/mp/FviDEf/moviebuddy

You can get started with FeatureMap, and if you need more help or ideas, check out our 5 reasons to use User Story Mapping or a specific idea such as Feature Definition.

It’s 2021, and that old code is way over due. How to plan your Legacy rewrite.

Re-write your legacy application using User Story Mapping

Does your current application need its legacy code rewritten to benefit from security, new features, modern integrations and to get with the new working world of remote WFH lifestyle?

Stop putting it off.

We’ll go over how to tackle the mammoth task and break it down to an approcable and task worth completing.

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 or plugging into an active project to help redefine the backlog, MVP and process. Afterall.. you need to start with your MVP or risk feature creep and stagnation.

FeatureMap can be used to help you plan out a current project or in this case, current piece of software. First approach the product/project/app and hash out the main features of the finished and current code.

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?

Take a moment, start you map and make a column and throw in ideas, thoughts, approaches, decisions. This is more for reference that you can draw from as you plan out the current software.

You can utilise basic User Story Mapping and decide where to place these cards, with which layers, columns and sections on your map.

Below and in these examples, we will refer ot our “Moviebuddy” app, a fictional app to help sorts your DVD collection.

The Moviebuddy Current Version

We then worked through identifying which sections were redundant and not required after the code update. We identified these and added them to a new column to the side. Essentially removing them from view. Some of these features were workarounds that the new framework would natively support so we can remove those, yet we still need to rewrite some of the related code. Be sure to add discriptions for your team to reference that may help them realise your decisions.

In this case, our team assembled and had an online meeting to identified which parts of the code would be updated and what we should be prioritised as a framework. We labelled this as version 1 and aimed to get the core functions updated. The MVP of re-writes.

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.

Re-writing your legacy code is so very typically neuenced and specific to your use case, but I hope with these examples above you can see how to:

  • Add your current app to a map.
  • Collaborate with your team to share the same understanding.
  • Highlight what is redudant.
  • Task and outline new expanded features.
  • Work through the MVP and assign with the team members.
  • Estimate time, costings and aggregate them for team leaders to quickly understand.
  • Rewrite your legacy code
  • Have a celebration

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

It’s 2021 already, stop putting that task off, realise how easy and approachable it is with a User Story Map. Break down the mountain to bite size tasks and update that out of date framework!

If you need direct advice, coaching, a guide or want to book some time to explore FeatureMap, do feel free to reach out to us, but first…

Moviebuddy is all fictional for the purpose of training.

From Idea to MVP

User Story Mapping - From Idea to MVP

User Story Mapping is the perfect tool for taking an idea of a group, and refining it with shared understanding into a perfect MVP.

If you are just starting or have a project that is stagnant or facing a barrier, read on how to easily figure out if you have a product already, or how to best start the planning process in 2021.

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

To start, you’ll be going on a User Story Mapping journey. Take your product and start writing out all the steps out, be as broad as you want.

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 to refine your idea.

Build to Learn

With the initial idea fleshed out, 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 instead share with a small group of users. Ideally users you spoke to initally that may have sparked the idea of the product or are in your alpha/beta group and open to seeing the progression.

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 if you can change them from mute to talking.

If you are reading this to get started, you can get started straight away for free. You get given a premium trial for 2 weeks when you sign up, but even if you revert to a starter account you’ll still have access to edit, move and make your map.

You can get signed up, but if you are planning, read on for now.

Applying it all to a Story Mapped Backlog

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

For a practical start, 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.

You can lay it out how you like, but if you want guidance you can lay it out in vertical strips, and arrange it 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 refine your Idea down to a core set of principles. You can find out your MVP.

When I created my app, I went beyond the MVP and made the pre-MVP core functions. This allowed me to generate an ugly, functional core system to then expand on. I never released the pre-MVP but it helped me define the principles of our app.

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 but for now, the key two points echoed everywhere:

  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.

Henrik Kniberg

I was once hired to salvage a project. When I started digging into the functions and principles I found that they had been in a state of “not yet ready” and “coming soon” for over a year. I learnt that each time they had developed a section the designers, artists, and owners all had differening ideas of what they all wanted.

I first sat them down with a task of shared understanding, figuring out exactly what everyones vision was, and how it translated to actionable steps.

Then secondly I highlighted they already had a MVP, and had an MVP since the year prior. We seperated the whole system into stages (the horizontal sprints) and were able to wrap up and release the project.

If translated that to Henriks image above, I realised they were at stage 3, while they were aiming to develop to stage 5. Stage 5 before they had even earnt a penny.

Do not do it.

Summary – Validate your MVP

So to summarise.

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

With that learn knowledge, collect data, read feedback, refine your idea.

If it ever seems out of kilter with the rest of your team, you shouldn’t worry as you are all working on a Story Map, you will all see the steps and sprints. That shared understanding of the project elimates the issues.

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.

Get started today, and get your project working. You may already have an MVP!

Shared Understanding – Benefits of Story Mapping

Shared Understanding - A buzzword to describe group knowledge

“Shared Understanding” is a well known buzz word, or common expression, in the User Story Mapping and project management scene. It really easily breaks down to a common group concenus of a projects. Getting to the point of a common shared concensus can be met with pitfalls and misunderstandings without even realising the issue is there!

Paul, Alex and Simon can all believe they agree and understanding one anothers design idea…. but do they?

User Story Mapping is not strictly a method of building software as it can be applied and utilised in a multiple of ways, but for this.. it is perfect.

The main drive is to result in a shared understanding, to expose the absolute “given” in philsosophy.

Shared Understanding in 2021
Shared by Jeff Patton, author of User Story Mapping – The Shared Understanding Problem.

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.

Check out FeatureMap and start your trial now.

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.

Seeing our goals visually on a map was a big help in shared understanding

Project Manager in this case.

Before using FeatureMap to plan out their goals, the team used multiple shared documents, lists and tasks. It was possible to achieve what they sought, but it was certainly wrought with overlapping issues.

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.

Which teams should be involved?

Really, the answer is as many as you can.

  • UX/UI Team
  • Agile Coaches
  • Software Engineers
  • Product Owners
  • Product Managers
  • Customers
  • Marketing Teams
  • Executives

User Story Mapping is better when a group advises, rather than an individual.

How to get Started?

Getting started is easy, assembled your team, open up a map and start talking!

Online User Story Mapping for Remote Teams

If you are new to User Story Mapping or have already done user story mapping, it is highly likely that you’ll be doing Remote User Story Mapping online in 2020.

Since the pandemic we have seen over 31% of the US Workforce migrate from offices in March 2020 to working from home in April 2020.

Already we see businesses changing the way they work, creating permanent changes to include remote working, hot desking, partial office attendance and in some cases, removal of the office entirely. It is clear that if we seek out a positive from all this, the education of a better work-life is certainly one.

One downside of the removal of a physical office space is the ability to carry out planning, and if we look at User Story Mapping – the ease to create a board. This is where FeatureMap comes in as an online digital space.

Lets go over the 5 things for a successful remote User Story Mapping session.

  1. Foundations

First make sure your entire team understands the principle of User Story Mapping. Who, What, Why? Of user story mapping, the multi-uses, some examples of why to use it for project management and basic intros. As long as your team understands – you will be golden.

  1. Plan your introduction

It may take a few days, may take a week, or may take a quick catch up over the day. Whatever the use case of your group is, and the required time, be sure to keep in mind the differences between working in the office and working from home.

Figure out an agenda, plan the day over introductions, activities, presentations, and when to carefully place the breaks.

For some, working from home can be distracting, while for others it can provide a freedom and comfort to allow them to work efficiently. Cater to everyone.

Is everyone on the same timezone?

Will everyone be available for the full time?

Social time?

Can you create a course?

  1. Get your Tech in order.

If you’ve been in any meetings with people new to remote working it can derail the meeting to tech support and cause all sorts of issues.

Ensure everyone is ready with their hardware, software and prepared to participate and collaborate.

This will be basic things such as:

  • Your main communications, be it Teams, Zoom, Skype or Slack – ensure everyone is signed in, ready and working.
  • VOIP, Headphones, Microphones, audio tests – Ensure everyone is good ahead of time. There is nothing worse than having one person spend 45 minutes troubleshooting a microphone.
  • Webcams working – These are great to make the remote working feel like you are all in it together.
  • The PC and Internet! – Basic basic basic tests. Make sure it all works.
  • FeatureMap Accounts – signed up, invited an in the correct map ready (either in a trial if new, or setup with the group leader if business). We’ve made this bit easy ?

You can send this out pre-meeting and ensure everyone can do a mock load, test and make sure they are ready to go 9am the day of the course.

  1. Set out clear rules

So this is more of a per group basis. I’ve sat in meetings where everyone is completely new to remote working, and I’ve sat in groups where it is a tried and tested done deal. The huge range of experiences were staggeringly immense – talking over one another, crunching of food, tech issues, volume, lag – oh my.

Set out some rules to ensure your remote user mapping session is productive:

  • One person talks at a time
  • Ensure everyone has had time to participate
  • Check chat frequently
  • Eat only in your break
  • Good audio and camera (put your webcam on!)
  • Mute your microphone between conversations and don’t hot mic!

In an ideal world, your remote colleague might be in a self contained home office, free from distractions and sound – but in a real world… sometimes the kids, dog, neighbours or even home office equipment may not behave. So give slack but also be aware of your team and work to these requirements.

  1. Meeting Execution

Now we have our tech sorted, our plan, our rules and accounts. It is worth considering that working online for long periods of time can be extremely tiring and regular breaks are recommended.

One simple rule for remote working is that when scheduling meetings plan them to finish 5 minutes before the end of the hour, or before the half hour, to build in time for much needed breaks.

Here are some basic tips for running effective online sessions:

  • Manage Talking Time – Communicating online can take longer, typing, thought process (the removal of visual feedback) but also allow clearer and direct communication. However it can take time so try timeboxes. Use a timer, visible to all, to ensure conversations do not drift.
  • Visualise Information – Share sources of information when referring to it in the meeting, use your dedicated channel to get a clear visualisation. This is an important goal and why the User Story Map and its visual collaboration is important to be real time.
  • Avoid repetition – Maintain engagement, and keeping attention is important as so you do not need to repeat coverage. There are many tips to do this, but random selection or asking the last person who spoke to choose who speaks next is a good way to keep everyone alert and listening to the course.
  • Records and Notes – If the call needs to be recorded, or notes do so in an online document. Webcams at flipcharts, photos of whiteboards can deliver a very poor and low impact experience. While you’ll have the story board covered with FeatureMap, it is important to ensure accompanying tech to deliver a strong course.

One thing 2020 has shown us – Remote Working is here to stay, so get ahead of the curve and ensure your team is productive and effective.