Conversation is Crucial with User Story Mapping

In 2020 we saw the rise of Remote workers. In 2021 we saw businesses, that were ahead, embrace working from home and remote workers. With the shift, came the realisation that conversation is king when it comes to project management. Communication, communication, communication.

User Story Mapping is the tool for a team to build out, or embrace a project. It enables you and your wider team to come together and design your product in full.

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

A tried and tested method to help develop your Map is utilising the “right size” method. Break down each part of the project/prodocut until it fits the “right size”.

For example, 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.

Really you can define these to your preferences, but if you are unsure, use the above outlines.

 

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 with your team, 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, don’t 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 so get started, and save time and hours, Plug in your exisiting work, or start anew.

 

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 Future of Remote Work in 2021

The world saw a huge shift in the 2020 working environment due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. While still here in many countries, and fears of third waves on the horizon, many are holding hope for the Vaccines that seem to be still shaping out the future landscape of the working world.

While some companies used to offer a work from home perk, it has fast become the go-to standard. Now in 2021 companies are transforming workplaces to places of collaboration, rather than a dedicated heads-down workplace.

Many companies are making the permanent move to dedicate a number or all of their team to a remote working solution. Dell want to move 50% of its workfoce to remote. Amazon have picked up over 3000 remote workers, and other companies such as Saleforce and SAP have been well reported as remote working companies.

With the economy, the after effects of the worldwilde pandemic, the stagnant wages and growing government state incentives. It is clear to see why it is predicted that by 2025, nearly 70% of the workforce will work remotely, at least part-time.

By 2025, 70% of the workforce will work remotely part-time.

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics

A few years before the Pandemic; FeatureMap itself moved from its dedicated office space to remote employees across three countries. In making these changes, we identified more effective practices, saved on overheads and costs, and introduced a new culture and productivity.

As the pandemic forced other companies also turn to the remote online workspace, we thought it would be a good time to share some of our experiences and tips for getting the best out of your distributed team. We shared our initial thoughts and experiences in our last blog related to working from home. But how baout 2021?

We are here to help, so if your small–medium business is impacted by COVID-19, reach out to us at team@featuremap.co and see how we can find a solution for you during this time.

Working from Home

Things you need for your team to be successful while working from home remotely:

  • Team chat
  • Video conferencing capability with screen share options
  • Digital backlog management
  • Shared documents
  • Time management
  • Ways to stay connected with each other
A laptop of a remote worker starting with distributed team about to utilise user story mapping with featuremap.co
Make your office space at home comfortable for remote working.

Team chat

There are many chat tools available online. We recommend Slack, Teams and Skype, but Slack in particular. It allows you to continue conversations throughout the course of work, either directly through private messages or in channels that act as meeting rooms. Everyone will be able to see discussions in these channels, so wise management using features like thread conversations will be key to an effective collaborative environment. You may already have a Microsoft solution and Teams have developed well in the last year.

Video conferencing

This includes daily discussions, team voice chats, and one-to-one meetings. We recommend video conferencing to encourage a continued level of professionalism, but being able to chat with somebody face-to-face can create more effective communication.

Good video conferencing software offers voice chat, video, and screen share. The ability to easily and quickly share your screen to your remote team during a meeting is time-saving gold dust. Zoom, TeamViewer, and Slack all offer this functionality.

However, be aware that both chat and voice calls can be disruptive if used unnecessarily: imagine getting called to meeting after meeting in the office!

We found a careful balance of start of the week meetings and end of the week meetings with ad hoc, required, progress meetings when required.

Common Problems

Remote work, does have its problems. Some people dislike working in the same place where they live, relax and can be hard to create a personal seperation. Other people require face to face, contact and interaction with people and the seperation can cause a disconnect. Some talk about the challenge of how to collaborate and state it is difficult to get on the same page with projects.

Luckily while we cannot help with the face to face contact. We can advise creating an area or state to help with the switch from work to personal.

Establishing discipline, dressing for work, and setting your desk or workspace in a particular manner. One trick I use is different coffee cups! Bizzare, I know, but it works!

Finally we can help with collaboration. Projects, teams, and remote working on completing a project, blacklog or product is the name of the game here at FeatureMap.

Digital backlog management

When you first start working remotely, it’s important to update the management of your tasks and responsibilities to your new environment. All those sticky notes on your monitor and scribbles left on your desk won’t work anymore. You have to go digital.

If you have a project manager, ask them to recreate your collaborative spaces in a digital space as soon as possible. Your remote team being able to access a single platform for project planning will not only help foster self-discipline but will also improve productivity. Ensure you use a tool that protects you, is easy to set up, and is clear, precise, and agnostic.

If you have any questions about FeatureMap.co, privacy, security of our online cloud or our on-premise options, drop an email over to team@featuremap.co

When we first created FeatureMap, we designed the fundamental principles based on Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping model. Since then, however, we have evolved and developed to create a tool that can be used in multiple environments with a wide range of practices, including user story mapping, development, product management, team task management, agile workflows, kanban, and task lists.

When you recreate your collaborative space online, remember that utilising labels, custom fields, colour tags and assignments can really help you take control of your workflow.

A remote worker taking his user story mapping post it notes to a digital tool
Take your post-it notes and put them online for your team.

Moving to the digital space for project management

If you are moving from a physical workspace to the digital one, and are starting afresh, you will need to first identify and define the project’s backbone.

Designate a group of people to explore your project and identify the user experience and journey. Focus on the breadth of tasks first, then build in the depth.

If its easier we now support SAML integration to allow an easier onboarding process for On-Premise accounts

Using a shared workspace to collaborate live, whilst using video chat, can really help bring your session together as well as improve the quality of the end result.

Build a map and, if you need to, outline all the projects, cases, tasks and work within it. If you want to dig deeper into user story mapping while your team is distributed, check out our guide on how to get started.

If you are still uncertain and want a demo of FeatureMap.co, do reach out at sales@featuremap.co and we’ll be happy to schedule a live demo for a small team.

A FeatureMap marketing story map demonstrating some of the features of User Story Mapping and Agile.
Covid-19 – Taking your physical to the digital with FeatureMap.co

Distributed team culture

Building a culture, keeping the team connection healthy, and improving communication with remote teammates is crucial. For this, team chat and communication is important. Adding a space where people can chat, share their daily lives, or simply talk before work or a meeting fosters healthy growth, keeps people engaged, and helps your teammates learn about each other. You can even build on this by creating virtual lunches together, having healthy competition about the “best lunch”, and more.

Try FeatureMap Today, and if you need more users, have feedback or suggestions we have new solutions for 2021 to help get you onboarded.

Do reach out and we can find a solution to help cover you while Covid-19 impacts your business.

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.

Working From Home in Isolation due to Covid-19

As the world reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are faced with new challenges every day. Countries go into lockdown, workspaces close, and individuals go into self-isolation. Although remote work is already a reality in 2020, with some companies prepared or completely online, for some it may be an entirely new approach.

FeatureMap has moved from its dedicated and shared offices to a mixture of shared spaces, distributed offices and remote employees across three countries. In making these changes, we identified more effective practices, saved on overheads and costs, and introduced a new culture and productivity. As other companies also turn to the remote online workspace, we thought it would be a good time to share some of our experiences and tips for getting the best out of your distributed team.

We are here to help, so if your small–medium business is impacted by COVID-19, reach out to us at team@featuremap.co and see how we can find a solution for you during this time.

Working from Home

Things you need for your team to be successful while working from home remotely:

  • Team chat
  • Video conferencing capability with screen share options
  • Digital backlog management
  • Shared documents
  • Time management
  • Ways to stay connected with each other

 

A laptop of a remote worker starting with distributed team about to utilise user story mapping with featuremap.co
Make your office space at home comfortable for remote working.

Team chat

There are many chat tools available online. We recommend Slack, Discord and Skype, but Slack in particular. It allows you to continue conversations throughout the course of work, either directly through private messages or in channels that act as meeting rooms. Everyone will be able to see discussions in these channels, so wise management using features like thread conversations will be key to an effective collaborative environment.

Video conferencing

This includes daily discussions, team voice chats, and one-to-one meetings. We recommend video conferencing to encourage a continued level of professionalism, but being able to chat with somebody face-to-face can create more effective communication.

Good video conferencing software offers voice chat, video, and screen share. The ability to easily and quickly share your screen to your remote team during a meeting is time-saving gold dust. Zoom, TeamViewer, and Slack all offer this functionality.

However, be aware that both chat and voice calls can be disruptive if used unnecessarily: imagine getting called to meeting after meeting in the office!

Digital backlog management

When you first start working remotely, it’s important to update the management of your tasks and responsibilities to your new environment. All those sticky notes on your monitor and scribbles left on your desk won’t work anymore. You have to go digital.

If you have a project manager, ask them to recreate your collaborative spaces in a digital space as soon as possible. Your remote team being able to access a single platform for project planning will not only help foster self-discipline but will also improve productivity. Ensure you use a tool that protects you, is easy to set up, and is clear, precise, and agnostic.

If you have any questions about FeatureMap.co, privacy, security of our online cloud or our on-premise options, drop an email over to team@featuremap.co

When we first created FeatureMap, we designed the fundamental principles based on Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping model. Since then, however, we have evolved and developed to create a tool that can be used in multiple environments with a wide range of practices, including user story mapping, development, product management, team task management, agile workflows, kanban, and task lists.

When you recreate your collaborative space online, remember that utilising labels, custom fields, colour tags and assignments can really help you take control of your workflow.

 

A remote worker taking his user story mapping post it notes to a digital tool
Take your post-it notes and put them online for your team.

Moving to the digital space for project management

If you are moving from a physical workspace to the digital one, and are starting afresh, you will need to first identify and define the project’s backbone.

Designate a group of people to explore your project and identify the user experience and journey. Focus on the breadth of tasks first, then build in the depth.

Using a shared workspace to collaborate live, whilst using video chat, can really help bring your session together as well as improve the quality of the end result.

Build a map and, if you need to, outline all the projects, cases, tasks and work within it. If you want to dig deeper into user story mapping while your team is distributed, check out our guide on how to get started.

If you are still uncertain and want a demo of FeatureMap.co, do reach out at sales@featuremap.co and we’ll be happy to schedule a live demo for a small team.

 

A FeatureMap marketing story map demonstrating some of the features of User Story Mapping and Agile.
Covid-19 – Taking your physical to the digital with FeatureMap.co

Daily check-ins

Daily check-ins can really bring together a remote and distributed team. Each morning, share what your tasks are, or what you are working on, via chat and then follow up that report by mirroring the workflow on your map for the later check-in. This is a great method to check who is working on what, the progress, where blocks may occur, and how everyone is progressing with their tasks.

Management can be utilised by sharing Google docs, following up on emails or arranging voice calls. A story map can be a quick snapshot view for all team members to understand the project stage.

Distributed team culture

Building a culture, keeping the team connection healthy, and improving communication with remote teammates is crucial. For this, team chat and communication is important. Adding a space where people can chat, share their daily lives, or simply talk before work or a meeting fosters healthy growth, keeps people engaged, and helps your teammates learn about each other. You can even build on this by creating virtual lunches together, having healthy competition about the “best lunch”, and more.

 

Try FeatureMap Today, and if you need more users, have feedback or suggestions. Do reach out and we can find a solution to help cover you while Covid-19 impacts your business.