Story Mapping: A Reliable Agile Methodolgy

User Story Mapping - A Reliable Agile Methodology

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”.

Step 2 — You can see the sprints have seperated, clearly, what functions are required in each layer.

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.

Next Steps.

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.

Step 3 — Expanded map with colours, descriptions, checklists, status, and time estimations.

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

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.