User Story Mapping For Beginners

Learn user story mapping in 5 simple steps and put your new skills into practice!

user story map

What is user story mapping ?

By organizing user goals, activities, and user stories, you can an intuitive, visual backlog, that everyone understands. This is what we call user story map. Why is it so important to create such easy-to-understand documentation? Your customers need a simple way to confirm product goals. Plus, your teammates benefit from such a straightforward platform, with a clear description guide at the tip of their fingertips to which thay can add valuable ideas. To sum up, user story maps are the aid to building shared understanding between project members.

STEP 1 - Discover project goals

The first step is to focus on your potential customers. Summarize which goals the users achieve by using the product. Write each goal on an index card or post it, and arrange them into the logical order.

For example on an accommodation website, the goals can be: “find hotels in Florida”, “choose the best hotel, near to the beach”, “book a room for a week”

project goal discovery with story map
user joruney mapping with story map

STEP 2 - Map the user journey

After collecting the goals, retell the user journey. Identify the steps the user takes to fulfill her/his goal. Avoid mistakes by dutifully follow the narrative flow. Place the post-its into the second line, step-by-step. If you discover missing steps, just put it into the journey.

Post-it notes are a smart solution to creating small documents, but the online story mapping tool delivers more flexibility.

STEP 3 - Come up with solutions

The next step is to find solutions for achieving the user steps. Through this process, you create "user stories". Initially, you can use the following template:

As a user , I want so that step.

Using the accommodation example, user stories are: “As a user, I want to find hotels for my holiday, so I start browsing the discounts and advertisements” or “As a user, I want to find hotels for the next week, so I start searching by date.” Brainstorm with your team to collect the most possible solutions and put all user stories under the related steps.

user steps on a story map
user step and feature prioritization

STEP 4 - Organize tasks based on priority

If tGTM-5GXSDZ2rming team was successful, the story map should be full of great ideas! User stories have different priority levels. Identify the most common behavior or the basic solution to the problem.

Organize user stories by priority and place the most important card at the top of the column. Discussing priorities with the customer is crucial, so be sure to stay connected with your partners.

STEP 5 - Slice out the release structure

First, specify the smallest working part of the product, the Minimum Viable Product. It's always hard to choose the fewest tasks for a marketable product.

Try to complete the user journey by beginning with the most common or most easy-to-develop tasks. Just focus on completing at least one user journey. After that, try to organize the rest of the backlog into tangible pieces by drawing horizontal lines between cards.

If you add estimations to user stories, you can plan and schedule the whole development process release by release. This is one of the most important pieces of information, so that your customer or executive needs to calculate delivery time and costs.

release structure planning with a story map

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story mapping playbook

FREE Story Mapping Playbook

All leaked best practices in one place

50 handpicked hints on

· Discovering project goals

· Mapping the user journey

· Prioritizing user stories

Bonus materials included

· 100 user stiory map examples

· Templates for specs

· Useful articles

Physical vs digital story mapping

User story mapping is a very useful and commonly used technique amongst software delivery and agile design teams. It aims to capture an entire product solution, in a sequenced, easy to read visual artefact. In essence, teams map a user’s goals, actions, product features.

Teams can make very advanced and intricate user story maps. Or they can keep them lean and simple, focusing on only the core journey and interactions. It totally depends on the team, their maturity with the technique and their aims!

There’s a lot of debate about physical vs digital user story mapping. Which is better? What’s the advantages of one over the other? Can I only use on type? Here we’re going to dive into some of that discussion.

What's the debate about regarding physical and digital story mapping?

They achieve the same thing, a story map, but in different ways and produce very different final artefacts. Let’s do a comparison. First off, what do I mean by saying ‘physical’ vs ‘digital’ story map. What’s the difference?

Physical story mapping

Physical maps normally involve post-it notes and a big wall. Teams gather around the space and stick up the post-its to show the user’s journey through the product.

Digtal story mapping

Digital story maps utilise a software programme, such as StoriesOnBoard, to create a digital version of the post-it wall described above, where an image of the post-it can be placed anywhere within the digital canvas.

We can see there’s pros and cons to both approaches. “This isn’t helping me settle the physical vs digital story map debate” I hear you saying. In response, I say do we have to settle for picking one of the above? No! Instead I always recommend teams use a hybrid approach to achieve top quality user story maps.

Hybrid story mapping

A hybrid user story map has all of the advantages bestowed on physical maps by including; team co-location, the excitement of ‘in the moment’ collaborative design and the raw creativity of sticking post-its all over your office space. After that exuberance you can then step back, take it all in and understand where to cut your product releases by seeing the solution as a whole without having to scroll! Then, with the group creativity complete, you can spend some time turning it into a digital story map and begin to enjoy the pros associated with the digital mapping approach.

Call out the releases, join features and show user journey deviations with different colours.
Add extra detail to elaborate scenarios without taking away from the high-level picture.
Add addition information as you get questions answered from people not there at the time.

Because the group creativity is over you can afford to take time over it and produce a durable, high quality artefact that you can share with all your stakeholders – those that were there and those that could not make it or anyone simply interested! This new story map will be easily maintainable and can be iterated by the team as development and design continues.

Yes, this hybrid approach does take longer than simply doing either just a physical or digital story map, but I think the strengths of the approach far outweigh the extra time burden.Especially if you use an online backlog management tool like Jira or TFS, as for example, StoriesOnBoard integrates with both anyway, so by creating the digital map, you’ve created both an awesome story map that you can share and populated your backlog. Win win! So why settle for just pictures of your sticky-note wall or miss out on the group creativity when you don’t have to with a hybrid approach?

The bottom line

Story mapping is a great technique that should be embraced regardless of your approach to it. The question of physical vs digital story mapping is a valid one, as both have lots of advantages and disadvantages when used in isolation. That’s why I recommend combining both techniques and using a hybrid approach for your story maps, that way you get the best of both.

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