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.

User story mapping games for learning

User Story Mapping can seem daunting when you first pull up a full FeatureMap. If those on your team are not familiar with the technique it can really slow down your sessions. Yet the technique is innately simple and can be taught very quickly.

Here I outline some of the quick and easy 30 minute games that you can add to your teaching workshop, or that you can go over yourself to help share or gain a n understanding on how to approach user story mapping.

 

Get to Work!

One of the easiest and well known games is the “Get to work” or “Wake up in the morning” tasks.

You write out on your map what you do each morning. This can be broken down to the most mundane steps.

I once had a team member write out everything they did which included an impressive rising time of 4am and 3 hours of morning preperation. I have since added to the challenge that they only have 20 minutes to get up and to get out the door to get to work.

What you can do is expand the task to reduce the time available, and to extend the time available to experience with what they add and cut aka minimal viable product! 😉

We have a map here of an example of our “Get to work”

Getting Ready for Work example on FeatureMap
Getting Ready for Work example on FeatureMap

 

Planning a vaction

Another exercise is to add a time limit, deadline and propose they prepare for a vaction.

Setting my team of 1 month to there vaction they had to go through steps of checking passport, renewing, booking flights, checking luggage, buying missing items, packing, items, etc.

After the team had planned what they needed to do, you can again add time restraints such only 1 week to plan, and even only 1 day.

Doing this can education again the MVP and how to adjust and move the map around to suggest the best plan.

 

Describe an existing product

A good exercise to describe a common well known product, or even if a competitors product. This exercise can be used to take the focus from games and activies to a more development and industry focused task and will later help with your projects.

The last time our team covered this we had just seen a recent update to Spotify so we outlined and described the product, desktop, browser and mobile.

We explored the application and spent some time designing the task out, splitting it into sections and then created the foundation or backbone of the application.

 

When you have created the backbone product you can then start adding extra features in sprints, or even removing tasks and features to create an application lite, in this case it was “Spotfiy lite” or a media player.

We ended up designing Winamp!

 

We then ended up designing a fictional application about movies called “Movie Buddy” which we now use as a demonstration FeatureMap still today.

The Moviebuddy Current Version

 

 

User Story Mapping Exercises

Using games and exercises to teach any product or methodology will be met with variation. Be aware of your audience, what will work and tailor your tutorials to fit them.

Some important tips for running these games.

  • Keep the time taken per exercise to under 30 minutes
    • Split each task of a game into 5 minute periods.
  • User FeatureMap or good old fashioned sticky notes and markers.
    • Use walls, floors or tables.
    • You can always do a final lesson of converting sticky notes to digital
  • Discourage a “leader” who may make all choices, allow all particpants to take part.
  • Try to aim for 30 tasks.
  • If you are teaching, do the tasks beforehand so you are able to help with prior experience on the subject matter.

 

User Story Mapping is innately simple with a huge range of depth that can be demonstrated in deep and powerful maps. If you need more assistance or ideas, check out how to help your team understand.

 

Good Luck!

Customer Facing Story Mapping

A user story map is a method for visually covering a story, to help discussions, share understanding and can even be shared with customers.

When building your story map, you should include all the relevant people, regardless of position, in the team. Due to their 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.

One advanced tactic is to involve the customer with a customer facing Story Map.

Customers have probably seen roadmaps but to truly involve a customer a back-log will always show more detail, yet a Story Map can show your progress with a beautiful planned out snapshot.

Why use a customer facing Story Map?

Story Maps are for shared understanding and can share a clear overview of the whole product or project.

While you may not be able to share your post-it note maps very well, here at FeatureMap you can create a copy of your internal map and create a map for public facing, set it to public and share the link, such as this demo map:

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.

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?

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

Due Dates, Estimations, Custom Fields

Creating your user story maps you will notice a few fields with due dates, importance, color, and custom fields which are default set to Estimation and Elapsed time.

Card view with further details about priority, deadlines and custom fields

The custom fields have the option to be aggregator fields and the numerical value will add up with other cards in the column, task, activity.

Here you can see that two cards have point values and cost values which are aggregated at the title card at the top:

 

Aggregation.

 

All these features and functions can help with building trust with your customers as you demonstrate transparency with your activities.

Take customer feedback and deliver extra value by integrating their suggestions, ideas and changes into cards, sprints and allow those customers to see their feedback, in real-time, get integrated into a product promoting customer loyalty.

JIRA Integration

FeatureMap offers JIRA integration.

You can sync your map with JIRA or import a snapshot of JIRA and edit it from that point.

With your User Story Map integrated with JIRA, you can sync your tasks and display a beautiful map of your backlog suited for your customer facing interaction.

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.

 

Story Mapping Can Help Your Team Understand

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

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

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

Confused Team Mapping Out Individual Requirements

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

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

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

Shared Understanding with a Shared Vision

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

Mapping your story helps you find holes in your thinking.

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

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

Shared MVP Achieved With Understanding

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

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

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

Mapping your story helps with shared understanding.