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.

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.