Last week we released the new version of FeatureMap.
We’ve said our goodbyes to FeatureMap 3.4 – which had been valiantly running for over two years with just a few minor updates – and welcomed FeatureMap 4.0.
I’d like to give you some news about what our team has been working on over the past year and our plans for the future of FeatureMap. This update will probably sound unusually technical – I thought for once it would be nice to give you a deeper overview of what we have been doing behind the scenes.
While the changes might not be immediately apparent, as it is still the same FeatureMap you are familiar with, almost all parts of the application have been upgraded under the hood. Our goal with this release was to lay out the necessary foundation to support our plans for the next major features and design of FeatureMap.
One of the main benefits of this background work is that FeatureMap is now faster than ever: we’ve measured load times and request times reduced by over 40%. It is also a lot more stable and more resilient when something goes wrong in the network.
We’ve been constantly working away at improving FeatureMap and throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the growth of working from home and a wider adoption of user story mapping as one of the best tools for collaborative product management. This has kept us motivated to bring the best out of FeatureMap and strengthened our resolve to make it better.
So, what has changed in FeatureMap 4.0?
FeatureMap boots faster, loads pages more quickly, and can save your changes instantly. Not only does it offer a more responsive user experience, it also improves the overall stability of the application. Plus, it means we can now deploy hotfixes whenever necessary without noticeable downtime.
New application domain name
We have decided to separate FeatureMap’s public website, which presents the application features, pricing and legal terms, from the application in which you can access your maps. Your maps now live under the domain name https://app.featuremap.co, which means the URLs of your maps and cards have changed.
But don’t worry: we’ve made sure all the old links keep working and simply redirect you to the new locations.
Calls to our API will still work with www.featuremap.co as the base domain name for several months. API users are encouraged to use the new app subdomain from now.
Usernames are gone + improved mentions in comments
Another decision we made was to remove all visible usernames from the application. We still use them internally, but we no longer want them to be the default way of referring to a FeatureMap user. Which means it won’t be possible to sign in to FeatureMap using a username anymore: we’ll ask for your email address instead.
This also means we had an opportunity to improve the way users could @mention people in card comments and make it a lot nicer and easier to use. Give it a try: just type @ in a comment, add a few letters to filter users by name or email, and choose the person you’d like to refer to.
Map Layers that are collapsed are remembered
Quality of life updates will be seen frequently as we receive feedback and suggestions. Already we’ve released a mini addition (now officially on v4.0.1 at time of posting) that remembers the last active setting of your layers or groups.
Now when you collapse, and adjust the views, those layers/groups will remain collapsed when you return to the map or reload.
Sign in with Microsoft or Google accounts
Passwords can be a pain. We get that. Why not just log in to FeatureMap using your existing Google or Microsoft account ?
For those of you interested in using FeatureMap on-premises, you can now install and run the application on Linux servers and not just Windows.
Anything else? What’s next?
We made a lot more changes that are not directly visible right now. These will allow us to release some long-requested features in the near future. Here are some of the improvements we are already working on:
Custom tags for your cards
A more modern look for FeatureMap
Quicker actions on cards: copy-paste, move, or update several cards at once
Dedicated workspaces for teams
Please send feedback and get involved with our roadmap.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
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’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.
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.
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:
Sign up for an account
Search for the track by genre/year/artists/album
View/listen to the song track
Enter payment information
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Improves team involvement.
Allows to track project workflow.
Repeated work cycles.
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
No overproduction of tasks.
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
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
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:
On the Deck (This Spring)
Pending Testing (Approval)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once public you’ll be able to share the URL and add this to your emails, webpage or direct as links.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
What is the overall idea?
Who are the customers?
Who are the end users?
Why would they want it?
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:
The Polite Enabler. — The user who says everything is great, but doesnt use the product.
The Complainer. — The user who sends in lists of feedback and demands, but actually uses the product.
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:
Each card will have indepth details about the feature.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!