User Story Mapping: Streamlining Product Development

What is user story mapping, and how can you use it to understand the features your customers want from your product? Join us as we take a deep dive into the story mapping prioritization method.

When developing a mobile app, SaaS platform, or online marketplace, it’s essential to understand how your target audience will use your product. This helps you know what features to prioritize and how to enhance the UX/UI of your product to maximize retention.

User story mapping is a simple and effective way of identifying the steps your users take to achieve their goals and what you need to do to help them. If you’re a technical product owner, the story mapping prioritization method can help you get to market quicker and create a product people want to use.

In this article we’re going to look at what story mapping is, the benefits of using it, and how to get started with the story mapping prioritization method. And remember, if you need some extra support getting your product launched, our expert team is here to help.

User Story Mapping: Streamlining Product Development

What is Story Mapping?

Stories are the building blocks of communication between developers and those who use their work. Story maps organize and structure these building blocks, and thus enhance this communication process — which is the most critical part of software development itself.

Jeff Patton

Story mapping, also called user story mapping and the story mapping prioritization method, was developed by Jeff Patton in 2005, although it wasn’t referred to as story mapping until 2008. You can read more about the process in his book, User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build The Right Product.

User story mapping is all about identifying the steps to complete a task so you can see all the different ways a customer might interact with your product. This lets you see all the ways customers use your products and what you can do to make the process as seamless as possible.

User story maps depict three different levels of activity:

  1. Activities. These depict the high-level tasks that users complete
  2. Steps. These represent the specific subtasks that users carry out in order to complete an activity
  3. Details. These are the interactions users achieve to complete a step in the activity

A critical part of Agile methodology, you can use story mapping alongside elements like acceptance criteria to work more effectively and efficiently, helping you deliver a high-quality product.

Many companies use story mapping to determine which features to include. For example, Spotify uses story mapping to understand how users listen to music and how it can develop the platform to further enhance their experience.

A lot of people consider user story mapping and journey mapping as one and the same, although they are really two different things. Journey mapping identifies the specific journey a customer takes to achieve a goal, taking external factors and their emotions into account – for example, how does carrying out a specific task make them feel? 

User story mapping exclusively focuses on the steps a customer takes to carry out a task – it’s more practical and less emotive.

What are the Advantages of Story Mapping? urlaunched

What are the Advantages of Story Mapping?

One of the main benefits of user story mapping is that it ensures clear communication between developers, designers, engineers, and project managers. As story mapping is visual, it’s easier to understand and explain, meaning fewer errors. Plus, everyone can talk through the different activities, steps, and details, bouncing ideas off each other.

Other advantages of the story mapping prioritization method include:

  • Gaining a deeper understanding of the user journey and how your team can improve it. User story mapping lets you see the big picture
  • Determining which features should be built first in your minimal viable product (MVP), meaning you can get to market as soon as possible
  • Helping you prioritize what to do next
  • Identifying potential risks and issues, meaning more chance of success
  • Providing you with something tangible to show stakeholders, like investors
When Should You Use Story Mapping for the Best Results? You are launched

When Should You Use Story Mapping for the Best Results?

User story mapping is great as you can use it at any point of your startup life cycle – not just when you’re in the process of launching your first product. You can have as many story maps as you need, across multiple teams and products.

In fact, user story mapping is fantastic for when you’ve launched and when you’re determining which features to add to your product next. By understanding what your users want to do, you can identify the functionality that will benefit them the most.

The Process of User Story Mapping. urlaunched

The Process of User Story Mapping

Now that we know what user story mapping is, how do we use it to get the right results? Here is our simple nine-step guide to making the most of the story mapping process.

Pre-phase: Gather Documents and Choose the Mapping Tool

The more information you have at your disposal, the smoother the user story mapping process will be. Gather any relevant project documents, as well as any previous user stories or maps you’ve created.

It’s also important to choose the right mapping tool. You can carry out user mapping with just a whiteboard and sticky notes, but we always recommend using digital tools as it makes it easy to keep a record of your map. Jira and Trello are good low-cost options if you’re looking to get started.

Step 1: Identify Members of a Story Mapping

It’s time to assemble your team! Put together a cross-functional group of people, including product owners, product managers, developers, designers, and testers. This ensures everyone in your team gets a say, and nothing is left uncovered.

While it’s great to get a diverse range of people for your workshop, we recommend keeping the number of people at the meeting at ten or fewer. The more people in your meeting, the harder it is to get feedback from everyone. 

It’s also important to have a good facilitator who can run the workshop and ensure everyone’s views are considered. Getting a facilitator with no previous experience of the project can be a good idea so they can offer a fresh mindset.

Step 2: Set the Frames of a User Story Map and Define the Goals

It’s critical to have goals in place for your story map so you have something to aspire to. Think about what you want to achieve from your mapping session.

When you create a goal, think SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

Step 3: Sort out User Personas

Who will be interacting with your product? 

It’s important to have user personas in place before your workshop begins if you don’t already. A user persona is a fictional character that represents your target audience, helping you understand the needs and goals of the people using your app. This can help you devise your user stories, which we’ll look at in more detail later on.

Step 4: Appoint the Meeting for Story Mapping

It’s time to arrange your user story mapping meeting. While it’s okay to have the meeting over Zoom or Google Chat if your delegates are scattered all across the world, get everyone there in person if you can. You want to make sure you have everyone’s undivided attention!

Also, be sure to create and send out an agenda. While it’s important to be flexible when carrying out user story mapping, an agenda can help delegates plan ahead and come to the meeting with ideas.

Step 5: Conduct the Workshop

While no two user story mapping workshops are alike, these steps will help you make sure everything is covered:

  • Start by identifying each step
  • Add the steps for each activity
  • Add the fine details for each activity

Write each step, activity, and detail on a sticky note or virtual equivalent, and arrange them accordingly.

We recommend setting a time limit for each activity to ensure discussions stay focused.

Don’t panic if you can’t complete your user story map in a single session. Depending on the scope and size of the projects, some workshops can take several days.

Step 6: Write User Stories

Next, it’s time to flesh out your story mapping with user stories. You can use these to gain additional insight into the user journey and help prioritize the work that your team needs to do. You can use the user personas you created earlier to understand what your customers want from the process.

Write a user story for the relevant steps in the process. For example, let’s say that your step is to ‘log in’. Your user story could be:

“As a customer, I want to log in securely using my mobile phone.”

As security and mobile functionality are the priority for your customers, you might want to consider social sign-in or two-factor authentication.

Quality is better than quantity when it comes to creating user stories. It’s better to focus on four or five well-thought-out and highly defined sentences than have ten poorly developed ones. Also make a note if there are any dependencies between user stories, as this can have an impact when prioritizing them.

Step 7: Prioritize Stories and Outline MVP

When you have your user stories in place, it’s time to prioritize them in line with customer needs. This allows you to determine which features to implement now and which to add later.

There are lots of different ways you can do this. For example:

  • The MoSCoW method. A prioritization matrix that allows you to split stories into must-have, should have, could have, and won’t have
  • Planning poker. This is when team members secretly vote on the priority of a user story until a consensus is reached
  • Dot voting. Team members get a number of dots they can use to choose which user stories to prioritize

Step 8: Arrange the User Stories That are Left

It’s highly likely that you’ll have user stories that aren’t a priority at the moment. Leave for now, and you can revisit these stories in the near future.

Remember that your MVP will undergo multiple iterations and changes before you get to the final version.

Story Mapping Tips from You are launched

Story Mapping Tips

We hope this article has provided valuable insight into the story-mapping prioritization method and how you can use it to drive your product forward. It’s an incredibly powerful tool!

We want to leave you with some top tips to help you enhance your user story mapping even more.

  • Your story map is a living document that you should update as your product grows and evolves. This means you’re always aware of how your customers are using it and how you can keep them happy
  • Make your story map available to everyone in your startup, even if they weren’t part of the original meeting. This ensures transparency and makes sure everyone knows what the priorities are
  • Revisit your leftover user stories on a regular basis. Internal or external changes may mean a user story that was not a priority at the start is a priority now
  • And finally, have fun! User story mapping is an enjoyable, creative way to understand your product 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is user story mapping, and why is it important for product development?

User story mapping is a technique developed by Jeff Patton that helps teams understand the user journey and prioritize features for a product. It visually represents the steps users take to complete tasks, enabling teams to enhance the user experience and prioritize features effectively.

How does user story mapping enhance communication within a development team?

User story mapping promotes clear communication between developers, designers, engineers, and project managers. The visual nature of story maps makes it easier to understand and explain ideas, reducing errors and allowing team members to collaborate and share ideas more effectively.

What are the advantages of using the story mapping prioritization method?

The benefits of story mapping include gaining a deeper understanding of the user journey, determining which features to include in a minimal viable product (MVP), prioritizing tasks, identifying potential risks and issues, and providing tangible insights for stakeholders and investors.

Can user story mapping be used beyond the initial product launch?

Absolutely. User story mapping is a versatile technique that can be used throughout a product’s lifecycle. It’s valuable not only during the launch phase but also when determining which features to add to the product next. By understanding user needs, teams can continually improve the product.

How is the user story mapping process carried out?

The user story mapping process involves several steps:
1. Gather relevant documents and choose a mapping tool.
2. Assemble a cross-functional team of stakeholders.
3. Define the goals and frames for the user story map.
4. Identify user personas and their interactions with the product.
5. Schedule a workshop and create an agenda.
6. Conduct the workshop, identifying steps, activities, and details.
7. Write user stories to flesh out the map and gain insight into the user journey.
8. Prioritize stories based on customer needs and outline an MVP.
9. Arrange remaining user stories for future iterations.

What methods can be used to prioritize user stories?

There are several methods for prioritizing user stories, including:
– The MoSCoW method: Divides stories into Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have categories.
– Planning poker: Team members secretly vote on story priority until consensus is reached.
– Dot voting: Team members use dots to indicate priority choices.

How often should the user story map be updated?

The user story map is a living document that should be continuously updated as the product evolves. Regularly revisiting and adjusting the map ensures that the team stays aligned with user needs and keeps the product relevant.

How can I ensure transparency and alignment in my startup team using user story mapping?

Make the story map accessible to all team members, even those who weren’t part of the original workshop. This fosters transparency and ensures that everyone is aware of the product’s priorities and goals

Can user story mapping help identify changes in priorities over time?

Yes, user story mapping allows teams to regularly revisit and reevaluate user stories. External or internal changes may impact the priority of certain stories, making it important to periodically reassess and adjust the map.

Is user story mapping an enjoyable process for teams?

Yes, user story mapping is a creative and engaging way for teams to understand their product and improve it. It encourages collaboration and innovative thinking, making it an enjoyable process for everyone involved.

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