User story mapping is a lean method that is often used by Agile teams. It involves using story cards – the advanced method to replace sticky notes – and sketches to map out the interactions that the team expects users to have with a digital product to reach their goals.
User stories are a great way to define the functions and features of your software. They also help you align everyone involved in its development. This is especially beneficial for SaaS software companies as they tend to have multiple projects and teams.
However, it’s important to understand that user stories aren’t enough on their own to make sure that all of your product development activities are aligned with user requirements and goals. In other words, user stories alone don’t give you enough clarity on what needs to happen next in the product development process to create the best possible product.
This is where user story mapping comes in. Let’s explore how this works and why you should use it if you have a SaaS product under development.
Who created user story mapping?
User story mapping is not a new concept. Story mapping became known worldwide when in 2001 Jeff Patton published his bestseller book that helped IT people to find a better way to develop software.
Story mapping is a way of thinking, an essential problem-solving technique, and a framework. Originally and most often used by agile product teams. It is much more than just another product management tool that was once a whiteboard and a bunch of sticky notes.
Jeff Patton has a background not only in software development and product management but also in product design and UX design. That’s how this product discovery technique is connected to the Lean approach and Agile methodologies like Lean Startup, UX Design, and Design Thinking. Patton himself coaches teams using a mixture of all these frameworks.
By prioritizing typical user needs, goals, and activities into user stories, the team creates an intuitive, visual backlog that is easy to understand for everyone. This is what we call a user story map.
User story maps allow you to organize the features that your product will have into one overarching map. This map will help your development team identify the order in which they should work on each feature.
What are the benefits of user story mapping?
User story mapping is perfect for
- product development projects – from product roadmaps to release planning
- product design – whether it may be a physical or digital product
- service design
- agile marketing projects – e.g. for creative agencies, with cross-functional teams with many stakeholders
- planning complex projects with an agile mindset, or with a diverse agile team, and the basic need for shared understanding
And here are a few methods of how user story mapping helps teams in creating solutions that people would like.
Lays the focus on the user
When a product team creates a user story map, they put themselves in the shoes of the product’s intended audience. With this story map, they can focus on the user problems and see how people interact with their product and what steps they need to take to improve it.
As a result, the product roadmap initiatives must be approached from the perspective of customers, so that the subsequent releases can have a particular task in mind to add actual value to the product.
Creating a visual representation of all the work that is required to offer a complete product experience may assist teams to identify what is most essential, arrange work into releases (the delivery of a new customer experience), and de-prioritize work that has less value to the end-users.
Gives clarity on the requirements
User stories and requirements are often a source of frustration for many teams. Using a user story map, you can see how major user tasks may be broken down into smaller ones, as well as how they connect.
Here, customer collaboration might be of help, as it puts user needs first, lets everyone be on the same page, and helps teams map exactly what the user story mapping solves.
Delivers value quickly
To organize their work into iterations and releases, teams employ user story mapping. Working on the most critical things first enables organizations to offer the greatest customer value quickly, gain early user feedback, and understand quickly which product additions are most beneficial.
Mitigates risks early
Making a story map of how users interact with a product may help teams see the big picture and identify possible roadblocks, risks, and dependencies that need to be minimized to effectively deliver the product on time and within budget.
Builds team collaboration
To better understand the customer experience and the work that needs to be done to improve it, companies might employ the process of creating a user story map. The exercise stimulates discussions that lead to a common understanding of what to create, when, and why.
What are some of the difficulties of user story mapping?
While user story mapping may help teams move quickly and create products that users enjoy, teams that aren’t prepared may end up with unsatisfactory outcomes. There are a few things to keep an eye out for:
Absence of a specific client
It’s hard to figure out how a user feels about a product until you know who they are. You need to determine who you’re mapping stories for before you begin. To solve this problem, you can model the traits and requirements of various user groups in the story map using user personas.
No obvious issue
The entire effort of user story mapping might backfire if you don’t know what problem your solution solves for clients. The improper client goal can lead to a loss of time and resources, not just in the exercise itself, but also in subsequent sprints and releases. However, it’s not all that bad—user stories help teams focus on customer needs before you start listing the different features to be developed.
Having a limited impact
To maintain a physical story map up to date, you’ll need a lot of sticky notes on the whiteboard – if you insist on creating the story map on a physical board. But why would anyone do this when there is an app that provides guided assistance with the story mapping methodology and can be used by remote teams?
The notes fall off, whiteboards are cleaned and the work is lost, or iterations and releases are released without the board being updated. In addition, story maps that are developed in a single area do not benefit teams in other regions.
Redundancy and rework
For development teams to begin working on stories from a user story map, they often need to be replicated in a product backlog, such as a software engineering tool. As a result, teams may have the impression that they are repeating themselves by participating in this activity.
When to use story maps?
Story maps can be used at any point in the product development process to keep discussions on track and ensure a common understanding of the team.
Typically, product teams use story maps in the product discovery phase to organize the ideas generated during brainstorming and turn them into user stories. They are also helpful when creating a backlog of features to prioritize.
What issues can user story mapping help with?
User stories are often added to the backlog of a Scrum or Kanban board once product discovery is complete.
But the backlog management features of these solutions fail to meet the needs of the product and release management. Simply because the backlog is displayed as a big, flat list. There is some benefit to filtering, categorizing, and color-coding, but you never get the full picture.
User story mapping overcomes this problem by presenting user stories in an easy-to-follow format. It offers major advantages over other forms of work planning:
- Everyone can understand the entire app, which is a huge plus. The story map explains what your app does and how it accomplishes it.
- Anyone can help create a story map.
- With a story map, your team is less likely to lose sight of the bigger picture.
User Story Mapping vs. Customer Journey Mapping
Customer journey and user story mapping are viewed and utilized differently. A customer journey map takes the user’s ideas, emotions, channels, and equipment into account to fulfill an objective.
User story maps are product-focused. It helps plan and implement user-friendly features and functions. A user story map takes what we discover in customer journey mapping to what we’ll accomplish in the product we design, beyond outlining basic concepts and possibilities.
Adding activities, steps, and details to a customer journey map creates a user story map. Adding the user’s perspective, ideas, and feelings to a user story map create a customer journey map. The research methods used to develop these two map kinds are typically the same, so they can be utilized together or separately.
User Story Mapping vs. Event Storming
An event storming session is a brainstorming session that includes the participation of important business stakeholders. Using story cards, the attendees record business events (what occurs), commands (what causes the events to occur), and responses (what occurs as a result of the events).
To better understand the business operations, these notes are arranged sequentially. It is more high-level and done early in the product planning process than user story mapping, which is aimed at narrowing the backlog to produce a functional product for the user.
How to create a story map?
Story maps are two-dimensional backlogs that anyone can understand. It is that simple and powerful.
There are three levels of depth in a user story map:
- activities or goals (the broadest category)
- details (the most specific actions).
Activities are the high-level actions that users aspire to do in the digital product – for example, checking their account balance or depositing a check.
Steps are subtasks that a user must complete to fulfill an activity. For example, the deposit a check activity may be broken down into the following steps:
- Enter mobile deposit data
- Sign check
- Photograph check
- Submit deposit
- Confirm deposit
Details are the most specific user interactions. For example, under the “Log in” step, “Enter username or email” and “Enter password” appear as two separate details.
User story maps let you visualize what needs to be done as an improvement, and you can easily make any user story map using user story mapping templates.
Their reordering is an iterative process sprint by sprint.
What tools do you need for user story mapping?
No matter how complex the project is, you only have to go through these few steps. There are tools for story mapping: StoriesOnboard is one of the most popular story mapping apps. It is practically an intuitive online user story mapping tool made for agile product teams and helps you to succeed.
The basic set of actions a user must do to achieve their objective forms the foundation of the story map. The minor stages below the “big” ones, such as entering or selecting a mailing address, selecting a shipping method, entering or selecting a payment method, confirming shipment, providing shipment data, etc., are the specifics for each of the bigger processes.
With the use of images and a collaborative approach, story mapping can succeed. People are more likely to express strong opinions about what they’ve just seen or heard, but they are less likely to engage in meaningful dialogue if they are only passively scanning a PowerPoint or scrolling through JIRA.
Who should be involved in user story mapping?
Using user story mapping, cross-functional teams may work together to create products that are better today than they were yesterday. Any team whose efforts will help offer customer value successfully should be represented.
There are benefits to including members of any team responsible for the overall experience design in the user story map. In a user story mapping process, these teams are commonly represented by:
- UX and visual design
- Product management
- Customer service
- Ops / IT
The process of story mapping is both open and participatory
Because the map is constructed in real-time, in person, and collaboratively, story mapping encourages everyone to “get their hands dirty.” There is an abundant chance to question, add, and amend stories since they are linked to the broader process, all concerning the overall aim and not focused on a specific job or item.
Developing a shared knowledge of the story map is a great way to bring your group together. After the session, everyone leaves with a clear understanding of what’s essential and how it relates to the overall aim. Because you’re not permitted to “go on” until everyone understands how each user story fits into the overarching narrative, you’ll avoid wasting endless hours of engineers and designers building things they “think” satisfy the objectives but fall short in practice.
There is no such thing as a finished story map
Story maps are ever-evolving documents. As each step is accomplished, the order in which they are prioritized and the number of steps increases. In the meanwhile, new needs are being discovered as a result of customer input and competition analysis. It doesn’t matter if you keep your story map up/out and constantly update it or if you have to start from scratch every time you need to change it.
Every so often, it’s a good idea to take a look at your story map. Put it up there permanently, or build a new user story from time to time as an educational activity in and of itself. No matter how you do it, the perspective you acquire from the process is priceless, as it allows you to better prioritize user experiences and to debate each story with the entire team, resulting in new insights and understandings.
How to do user story mapping?
The first step in creating a user story map is deciding which media to employ. Simply using tangible materials like a wall or whiteboard and sticky notes to create a dynamic outline is sometimes all that is required to build the virtual map.
However, the entire exercise would be a wasted effort if all the tasks are not included in the mapping method, or if the teams cannot access information as it is not shared online. Distributed teams may benefit from virtual planning for a successful delivery. Whatever the media, teams should take the following actions to ensure their success:
1. Discover project goals
Summarize what potential users want to achieve by using the product.
What job or issue does your product address for your customers? Prioritizing the user activities is essential to ensuring that all the work that follows is aligned with that aim. Even if teams are working on new features for an existing product, user story mapping work is vital. Thinking about products from the perspective of the user may be facilitated by using the user story format.
2. Get to know the product’s target audience
Create end-user personas to understand your target audience.
Your product can be used in a variety of ways by a variety of people. With the use of user personas, teams create stories from a perspective that is consistent with their target audience. It also prevents you from wasting time on scenarios that don’t meet your audience’s needs.
3. Create user stories
Find solutions to implement the user steps, and Organize user experiences into categories like “activities”
To construct a solid foundation and identify important themes and activities, the team may now break down each action or subject into smaller user story activities. For example, “As a shopper, I wish to update and delete products in my cart in case I change my mind before I check out” is the shopping cart activity.
4. Map the user journey
Identify the steps that will lead the user to achieve their goals.
Keep in mind: ‘As a __, I want to __, so that __.’
Every time a user interacts with a product, they are likely to do so in a similar way. The user story map is built on these activities, which are also known as themes or functions.
E-commerce products may allow users to search for things for sale, see items in a certain category and add them to a shopping cart. They may also wish to purchase the items they have selected. So, what the user takes into consideration will influence the story maps to be broken down into smaller user stories.
Identify the most common user action or basic solution to the initial problem. It may be complicated, but there are several useful prioritization techniques.
Prioritizing stories and your backlog is the next step once the high-level themes and specific user needs are in place so that the most important ones are at the top of the list. To understand how customers interact with the product, teams begin by tracing their path from left to right. Actions such as this one assist teams determine which stories are critical in producing a pleasurable product experience and which ones are less significant.
6. Recognize problems, dependencies, and alternatives
Using a story map, teams may identify possible bottlenecks, dependencies, technological architecture, or missing knowledge and capabilities that could hold them down later. Identifying and mitigating these risks before any design or development effort begins may help teams in reducing their impact, improving usability, and generating new ideas.
7. Specify the Minimum Viable Product and the following releases
This is the point at which teams transform a purely visual exercise into something that can be put into action. Using a top-down approach to prioritize stories, teams may quickly understand which user tasks are most important and should be organized into sprints or releases. Using horizontal slices across the map, teams will organize stories into priority groups inside each essential user action. For the sake of the customer experience, it is vital to keep in mind that this is not about determining what the minimum viable product is; rather, it is about determining what is needed to produce the best possible experience.
Learn more from our free story mapping e-book
100 user story examples, user story templates for specs, and more!
Summary: the key advantages of this technique over a simple, flat backlog
In case you are working on a complex product, service, etc. with a diverse product team and multiple stakeholders, and from time to time you need to agree on priorities to move forward, user story mapping is the best solution for you.
10+1 benefits of having a visual representation of the backlog:
- Transparency and shared understanding for non-developers too
- Improves communication with all the stakeholders
- It is clear to everyone where we are, what we have achieved so far, and what the challenges are.
- Big picture and prioritization – you can see and reorganize the essential and non-essential product features
- Having a roadmap from MVP to all the following releases
- Visualized user flows and user journeys
- Helps to detect hidden tasks and potential features
- Easier collaboration with stakeholders, demos are short and simple
- Allows more information to be collected and grouped
- Perfectly captures the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘why
- It is easier to slice large requirements or epics into smaller items or tasks
User story mapping highly supports delivering customer value on time. It’s ideal for complex, large projects or campaigns that take a long time to complete while ensuring the big picture is clear and that nothing is missed.
Have we convinced you already? Would you like to see how an online product board with original sticky notes works? If you are new to this technique, start here.
Try out the hidden tricks of user story mapping and the StoriesOnBoard features that help you get the most out of it! We have an amazing support team just waiting for your questions.
- Is user story mapping important?Story mapping helps agile teams visualize users, events, and settings in a way that is easy to understand. It's a strategy for improving a team's capacity to perceive and coordinate the sequencing of major events.
- When should you use user story mapping?Story maps may be used at any stage of the product development process to stimulate debate and bring the team on the same page. Creating a story map is a great way to visualize the experience of a new product or an existing product after doing usability testing.
- What is the difference between a story map and a product roadmap? The user story map is a relatively low-level way to see how the development process works because it focuses on organizing product features and tasks by how important they are. The roadmap, on the other hand, is more about the big picture, like product goals, releases, and milestones.
- What is the purpose of user story mapping? Story mapping's primary goal is to aid in the identification and prioritizing of product development tasks. The best way to do this is to create a map of user actions and tasks. Each story's place in the overall application is depicted in the story map.
- User story mapping in Agile – is it different? Is there anything that story mapping supports in terms of Agile values and principles? With the use of user story mapping, product managers and development teams may maximize customer value by using an adaptable, iterative methodology. They will be able to learn and better themselves and the procedures at every level. As a result, story mapping is in line with the Agile Manifesto principles. Using simple and natural language, user stories give context in an agile framework to the agile team. In the same way that sprints and epics are metrics, they represent the smallest unit of work. To put it another way, the act of creating an outline for information architecture is exactly what agile story mapping is.