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Story Mapping

Story Mapping approach for working with Agile user stories

Alexander Sergeev avatar
Written by Alexander Sergeev
Updated over a week ago

The idea of the activity is quite simple: represent the user’s journey through your product, building a simple model that shows your user’s story as you do. You'll see, Story Mapping makes working with user stories a lot easier.

One of the objectives of a product inception is to collect requirements. However, sometimes it's difficult to decide what to focus on and where to start. In Story Mapping activity all participants are involved in the process of building the product backlog. It looks more effective in comparison with the writing a dull requirement document. 

The method was first described in Jeff Patton’s article in the early 2000s, where he shared his own experience. Today Story Mapping creation is an approach that is widely used in development for release planning.

How is it organized?

The map consists of user stories that are arranged in two directions. Customer stories cards help teams focus on the business value of features and release updates that will benefit customers. 

The main idea of Story Mapping is that the product backlog is not enough to organize and prioritize the work. You need to find a more detailed structure.

In general, Story Mapping Methodology is organized as follows:

  • There is a horizontal axis representing the sequence of use. User stories (or tasks) are placed along this axis in the sequence in which they are performed by the user.

  • There is a vertical axis, which means criticality. Tasks are arranged vertically relative to how important they are (from top to bottom). Equally important stories can be kept at the same height.

Groups of related user stories can be grouped as Activities:

  • Create a vertical line to separate task groups from others.

  • For example, the activity can be “managing email”, while “sending an email to one or more addresses” is a user task.

  • Actions are located above the vertical axis and do not have any sequence. They can not be a priority or not.

Advantages of Story Mapping

This method of structuring backlog has many advantages, but the most important for prioritization are:

  • This is a visual tool that allows customers, stakeholders and members of development teams share a common understanding of what is happening.

  • It clearly defines how to gradually produce product iterations that deliver full product releases.

  • Placing user stories on the wall assists team members to perform relative sizing of the stories quickly.

  • Product requirements foster collaboration and build shared understanding.

  • The method allows easy slicing of the product backlog into releases. Slicing can be done vertically or horizontally.

How to use Story Mapping approach?

1. Define the primary product goal

Think about customization and your clients' preferences. You have to define the main goal, that must be fulfilled to satisfy your customer. 

2. Define the main processes

How the main user flow in your product looks like? What are the particular stages of this flow? Name all the processes and place them on a map.

3. List features for each stage

Look at each stage of the process and list all features that should be the part of this stage. 

4. Prioritize these features inside lists

Use helpful questions:

  • How important is the particular feature for finishing the process? 

  • How many users will use it? 

  • How often will the feature be used? 

  • How much value will the feature bring to the customer? And so on. 

Answering these questions will help to rearrange the features on your map.

5. Define the first vision of the product

When your features are prioritized, you may define the smallest possible representation of your working product. It is called the Walking Skeleton and with its help, you can separate “must-have” from “nice-to-have” and “won’t have”.

Essential features will be placed on the top of the map and can be used as a foundation to make the product better later.

Use Hygger boards to visualize story maps:

Story Mapping is an effective inception tool for creating a product backlog in a visual way. It helps product managers to build a shared understanding, identify backlog gaps, see interdependencies, slice and release planning activities.

Hygger recommends

Want to find out more about the method? This resource should be helpful:

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