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.

Story mapping examples

Event site

Imagine an event business that wants to build a website where visitors can look for fun or interesting events to attend with others.

The site will also have a members area where hosts can list and promote their events and a team of moderators will ensure events adhere to rules and regulations.

The user activities with many different steps in this example include:

  1. Participate.
  2. Host, and
  3. Moderate.

Now it is time to break down each user activity into smaller stories, otherwise known as user tasks.

The team places the user tasks under the correct activity and in an order that makes sense to the user.

  1. Participate – choose event → read event details → sign-up for event.
  2. Host – list a new event → promote event → organize event participants.
  3. Moderate – review events for compliance.

With the backbone of the story map defined, subtasks are identified and placed in vertical columns under each user task. In other words:

  1. Choose event – browse event listing page → search events by location → search events by activity type → search events by date. 
  2. Read event details – view general event overview → view detailed participant information. 
  3. Sign up for event – join participants → select and pay for membership → withdraw from event.
  4. List a new event – enter details of event → receive approval from company → receive rejection from company.
  5. Promote event – share on Facebook → share on Instagram.
  6. Organize event participants – send update → confirm time, date and location.
  7. Review events for compliance – peruse new listings → approve new event → reject new event.

Fill in the blanks

At this point, it is important to walk the map from beginning to end with various user personas to identify any missing subtasks.

As we noted earlier, teams must be on the lookout for instances where the user story differs from user behavior. 

In this case, it turns out that the different personas identified quite a few subtasks that were missed by the team.

A few examples include:

  • Choose event – browse events by those added since last user visit. 
  • Sign up for event – join event wait list. 
  • Promote event – invite other members.
  • Organize event participants – mark each participant as paid. 
  • Review event for compliance – make alterations to event for compliance.
  • List a new event – receive event improvement suggestions.

Prioritizing tasks and subtasks

Once diverse user personas have been consulted, it’s time to prioritize tasks and subtasks within each activity.

There’s no use prioritizing the activities themselves since each likely contributes to the operation of the event website.

Say for instance that under the “List a new event activity”, it was determined that the “recent event improvement suggestions” subtask should be given priority over the “rejection from company” subtask.

This, the team agreed, would give event hosts the chance to improve their listing before it was denied outright.

The team should then conclude the progress by selecting tasks from each activity that collectively form an MVP.

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.

Connected Agile Frameworks


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Agile Methodology

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Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


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Dual Track Agile

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Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Lean vs. Agile

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Lean Startup

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Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.

Spotify Model

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Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


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Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Read Also: Business Models Guide, Sumo Logic Business Model, Snowflake

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