Managing a project can be approached in a multitude of ways, and in 2021, with remote working and offices on the rise. User Story Mapping has rapidly stood out amongst the many agile methods. In one sentence, it can be easily explained as ordering a project (or product) into tasks and organising by priority and sophistication.
Let’s start with a brand new project, or we can take an existing project backlog. When it comes to backlogs it can be overwhelming, at times difficult to grasp, or what you should prioritise. At times projects are entirely sidetracked by mismanagement of priorities but user story mapping can resolve this.
Story Mapping 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 exploring your vision.
You will need to set out the goals of the entire product, the ideals, the dreams, think big. To best utilise Story Mapping is the big picture, not just a sprint. Do not fall into the trap of a niche narrow sprint at this stage.
First write out the user stories by setting out functions.
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.
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 minimum 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.
Do remember, the story map is not a static beast, it can be adjusted, amended with feedback, changed and adapted to suit the needs of each sprint.
With multiple team members working on it, as a team, you can start to see the end goal. The ideal product starts to form and when working as a group you will be able to clearly define what each task, and part of the project needs.
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.
If you want to see the tool we used for the images, check out FeatureMap.co
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.
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?
Can you create a course?
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.
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.
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.
It can be tricky to see and prioritise hundreds of Jira entries, you need to know which of them are the highest valued features so that you can build them in an effective agile order. One easily adopted method is using Story Mapping and over a messy product backlog. Here I write how it is easier to create a quick User Story Map with the JIRA integration tool at FeatureMap.co
User Story Map is invented by Jeff Patton, he wrote a book (User Story Mapping) to explain about the concept and its practice, it is highly recommended to read the book to use story map more efficiently.
Story mapping visualises the user’s journey in a step by step flow. These steps create a clear visual display of the requirements and help define your backlog. Compared to a flat backlog a user story map has added dimensions of position and movement through all verticals of your product. This allows you to first map and then navigate the entire user space of your product. With a user story map, you can then see you entire product, the full range of features and steps and gain a better understanding overall.
How a Story Map works
Groups: The broad actions that users take in order to reach their larger goals.
Lists: lower level under Groups, create the backbone of the map by telling the story or narrative of the user’s journey.
Stories: Basic building blocks of a map which describe something you can delivery and evaluate. Each block can be viewed for deeper detail.
Layers: Horizontal layers which split the story map to show what is in and out of each release.
Benefits of using Story Map
Here are few benefits of using story map as a user story tool:
Manage backlog with an overview and leveled structure
Brainstorm, discuss and prioritize user needs in a collaborative approach
Manage activities and tasks, and divide them into epics or user stories systematically
Arrangement and prioritization of user activities and user tasks, or drill down to refine them into related epics or user stories
Manage user stories in the online for both remote and co-location environments collaboratively for keeping everyone in your team the same page.
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 email@example.com 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:
Video conferencing capability with screen share options
Digital backlog management
Ways to stay connected with each other
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 email@example.com and we’ll be happy to schedule a live demo for a small team.
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.
FeatureMap can be used for free for an unlimited period of time, but if you want to use some advanced features such as Word/Excel exports or unlimited maps, you’ll have to subscribe to a Premium account.
Premium FeatureMap grants you you to export your map into various formats; documents, an image or even another application.
In this blog post we will take you through every step of the process.
We support export for file formats and platforms as below:
Microsoft Office Documents
I will be using the MovieBuddy Product Map as examples so you can follow along.
To get started with Export go to your map and click at the top right – “Export”
Here you will be given four different options:
As a new file or document…
Choosing to export as a new file or document will allow you to export your map as a CSV, XML, JSON, XLSX, and DOCX.
As well as support each file format, some of the file formats support different file layouts to give you full control of how your document is presented:
Simple list of cards
Groups at first level
Layers at first level
In addition we also have the option to add comments, attachments and checklists to your export. Some exports do not need to show all the details so these options can be disabled.
Export map as image
When exporting as an image we generate your image as a PNG format.
We realise that this can be used for printing large images for your work environment or simply having a copy for digital display and so we offer four different DPI versions. Please consult your printer for the ideal DPI, but we recommend 300 DPI for paper printing.
96 dpi (best for display on screen)
300 dpi (best for printing)
In addition we wanted to give you further control of your image so we offer different widths of the cards:
5cm (2 inches)
6.3cm (2.5 inches)
7.5cm (3 inches)
We advise selecting these options first with a low resolution image to find the best format and then opting for a higher DPI for when you are happy with the width.
We also offer printer friendly grey and white background options.
We also give full control over your columns and rows. If you wish a column (group) to be displayed in full, collapsed or hidden entirely.
When exporting to Trello you will first need to connect Trello and FeatureMap together by following the on screen prompts.
We will never take your information and use it for other than connecting FeatureMap and the desired service.
Once you have connected Trello and FeatureMap you can remove those permissions at any time from Trello.
Here you can choose how the export of your FeatureMap will be translated over to Trello.
Map to Board
Map to Kanban
Groups to Boards
Layers to Boards
Each setting can be repeated into new maps, the image above shows what turns into what.
Please note that creating the board may take some time as FeatureMa.
You can see an Example below:
This Demo Map is exported into the Trello Board Below.
Of course this can be exported in multiple formats.
Atlassian and REST API
For Atlassian and Trello navigate to Export and follow the on screen wizard to connect your account by allowing permissions.
A future Blog post will explore the optional JIRA Integration options.
Finally, we also have REST API where you can develop, edit and create your own export/import functions within your own REST framework.
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! 😉
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.
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.
We have an important update about JIRA Integration which will affect your workflow and connection.
You should take action now to re-enable your connection to JIRA.
Earlier in the year Atlassian announced an upcoming change in the way usernames work in JIRA and third party applications. Today 17/4/2019 the support for usernames was removed and now requires a API Token to connect to your FeatureMap.
From today FeatureMap will NOT connect to JIRA using the old username and password. This will disable automatic sync and a new Token will need to be generated to continue using JIRA integration.
The new API tokens offer more security and can be revoked at anytime. An active token is required for synchronization.
Generate your new API token:
To create an API token from your Atlassian account:
FeatureMap allows Markdown in the description of each card. Markdown is intended to be as easy-to-read and easy-to-write as is feasible.
Markdown is a simple markdown language you can use to easily add formatting to your cards. We do not support images or HR from Markdown at this time, you can see below the list of supported Markdown Text that can help you get your descriptions on cards:
Adding Markdown to text
This is how you **bold** text.
This is how you bold text
This is how you *italicize* text.
This is how you Italicize text
* Bullet one (don’t forget a space after the asterisk)
* Bullet two
Note: You must type a line break before and after the list.
Bullet one (don’t forget a space after the asterisk)
1. Step one
2. Step two
Note: Do not use a hashtag (#) when creating numbered lists in Markdown, as the symbol is used for other formatting.
User Story Mapping is often described as an easy process and maps are created by simply working through the user’s journey.
Sometimes it can sound simple, but at times you need to define the user’s journey.
Occasionally you’ve had a developer, or project manager who has already defined stories and just wants to regurgitate this journey onto a plan and have everyone agree. This sometimes works, but more often than not other team members are left wondering about more details and features, problems, and most importantly, better solutions are missed.
User Story Mapping is not just creating a map for the purpose of a great visual understanding, but it is also a great time to go over questions and really expose the plan.
Just as your first bunch of questions:
Critical thinking can be applied with great b0ons to any endevour and User Story Mapping is no different.
Those working on the map should have a clear defined understanding who the users are.
Who is the user that mapped this journey?
How is this user different to other users?
Do we need to expand our user scope at this stage?
Understanding who the users are will provide that focus for complex design and if the user is an actual real user, then knowing this person will help with focusing the team to provide something for someone real.
Defining what the user is doing with your project, app or endevour will be the main crux and defining question for all over User Story Mapping.
What are the users trying to achieve?
What do the users benefit over using your solution?
What other solutions are available?
What needs to defined?
Starting with an understanding of not only who the user is, but why this story needs to be mapped is crucial to have a worthwhile map.
Asking questions to help the entire mapping team directs.
Why does the story need to be created?
Why does it need to be defined?
Why would this information help decide scale and stability?
Once you have the ideal persona, and the ideal customer or user you can create an epic from the persona.
Label all your epics necessary to meet your users goals, but it is okay to keep them rough as you’ll be able to quick edit the table, adjust, delete and add more columns as needed.
Turn the users functions into rough epics
Turn the products functionality into rough epics
Capture the interaction and sequences
Then go deeper and refine each Epic into the cards.
It is normal to be challenged with your first iterations with a User Story Map and it’s okay to continually develop them.
Keep the users entire journey and story in mind, and don’t stop asking the questions, who, what , why?