Story Mapping And Why It Matters In Business

Story mapping is a simple holistic approach to using stories in agile development without losing sight of the big picture. Story mapping was first introduced by Jeff Patton in 2005 and is based on the concept of user stories, or stories that communicate product requirements from the perspective of user value

Understanding story mapping

Story mapping is an engaging and collaborative activity where everyone works toward building a product backlog on a wall. This maintains a focus on users and what they are doing with a product, helping teams avoid becoming distracted by pointless feature arguments. Instead, stories are written that capture both user and business value

By visually mapping out these user stories, teams are also able to:

  • Create an outline of product-user interactions.
  • Determine which steps will deliver the most benefit to the user, and
  • Prioritize what should be built next.

Building a story map

Story mapping is a top-down approach that breaks the product vision into actionable steps that can be prioritized. 

To better understand this concept, think of the basic structure of a story map as being similar to a tree. The production vision is represented by the trunk, while the large branches are goals. Smaller branches denote activities and leaves denote user stories. 

Then, follow these steps.

Step 1 – Frame the journey

Before mapping can commence, the exercise must be framed around a common goal. In other words, what does the product do? What problem is it trying to solve? Is there a specific user or target audience? What benefits will they (or the business) receive as a result of the product being built?

Step 2 – Build the story backbone

This describes the entire user story from start to finish. For someone booking a vacation rental, the first task may be signing up for account with the stay company. At the end of their user story, they may write a review for the homeowner or hotel.

To help define the story backbone, relevant experts should be asked to walk through the story step-by-step. Each member of the team should also contribute to encourage conversation around the sequence and flow of each step.

Step 3 – Identify and group activities

Activities are defined as common themes that group steps in a user story. For the individual booking a vacation, signing up for an account may involve entering personal information and opening the confirmation email.

Step 4 – Break large tasks into subtasks

It’s important to understand that most steps are probably too big to be completed in one sprint. Therefore, they should be broken down into smaller tasks and user stories.

Cards denoting steps in the user story should be split, rewritten, and reorganised so that subtasks do not get confused or muddled.

Step 5 – Fill in the blanks

Here, the project team must test for any missing tasks by having a different user persona walk through the entire user story. Teams must be observant, noting where user behaviour flow differs from what is displayed on the story map. 

In filling in the blanks, teams should gather as broad a range of perspectives as possible. A UX designer will be able to offer different insights compared to a developer, for example.

Step 6 – Prioritize tasks and subtasks

This very important step involves the prioritization of tasks by moving them up or down the backbone. High-priority tasks should be kept at the top of the backbone.

Prioritization will depend on the team and their particular product. However, many businesses choose to split the map into vertical sections entitled “could”, “should”, and “must”.

Step 7 – Slice groups of tasks into iterations

By this point, the team should have a backbone up top with a full suite of user stories grouped by activity and prioritized tasks underneath.

Iterations, or a full “slice” of what a product could do, can be seen by moving through the map from left to right. Each slice then represents a minimum viable product (MVP) that progressively adds value as development progresses.

For each slice, the team must conclude by determining what they hope to accomplish. That is, does the release contribute to broader company goals? To answer these questions, success metrics should be defined to quantify successful user behaviour.

Key takeaways

  • Story mapping is a holistic agile methodology where user stories are considered with respect to how they contribute to the overall user experience.
  • Story mapping provides a graphical representation of product-user interactions. This helps project teams prioritize iterations according to the value they provide to the user and business.
  • Story mapping is a seven step, top-down approach which uses the analogy of a tree to break the vision of a product in smaller, actionable steps.

Read Next: Storyboarding, Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"