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.

Key highlights of story mapping:

  • Concept and Purpose: Story mapping is an agile development technique introduced by Jeff Patton in 2005. It’s designed to maintain focus on the big picture while incorporating user stories for agile product development. It revolves around user stories, which communicate product requirements from a user’s perspective.
  • Engaging and Collaborative: Story mapping is a collaborative activity involving the entire team. It helps prevent distracting arguments about specific features and keeps the focus on user value and business goals.
  • Mapping Process: The process involves building a visual representation of user stories on a wall, creating a holistic view of the product’s user interactions. This helps outline product-user interactions, identify user benefits, and prioritize development tasks.
  • Structure Analogy: Story mapping follows a top-down structure similar to a tree. The trunk represents the product vision, large branches denote goals, smaller branches signify activities, and leaves represent user stories.
  • Steps to Build a Story Map:
    • Step 1: Define the common goal or purpose of the product.
    • Step 2: Create a story backbone that outlines the user journey from start to finish.
    • Step 3: Identify and group related activities that represent common themes.
    • Step 4: Break down large tasks into smaller subtasks and user stories.
    • Step 5: Test for missing tasks by having different user personas walk through the story.
    • Step 6: Prioritize tasks by moving them up or down the backbone.
    • Step 7: Slice groups of tasks into iterations to create minimum viable products (MVPs).
  • Example: Event Site: Illustrated through an event website example, story mapping involves defining user activities (e.g., Participate, Host, Moderate), breaking them into user tasks, identifying subtasks, and ensuring a comprehensive user experience.
  • Fill in the Blanks: After constructing the backbone and subtasks, conduct a thorough walkthrough with different user personas to identify missing subtasks and discrepancies between the story map and user behavior.
  • Prioritization: Prioritize tasks and subtasks within each activity based on user needs and business value. This step helps determine the order of development for different features.
  • MVP Definition: Conclude by selecting tasks from each activity to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for each iteration. This provides a progressive approach to product development.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Story mapping focuses on holistic agile development, emphasizing user experience.
    • It offers a visual representation of product-user interactions.
    • Follows a seven-step top-down approach using the analogy of a tree to structure tasks.
    • Prioritization is crucial, often categorized into “could,” “should,” and “must” sections.
    • Success metrics should be defined to measure the impact of each development iteration.

Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

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.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Andon System

The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

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.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

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.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

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.

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.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

GIST Planning

GIST Planning is a relatively easy and lightweight agile approach to product planning that favors autonomous working. GIST Planning is a lean and agile methodology that was created by former Google product manager Itamar Gilad. GIST Planning seeks to address this situation by creating lightweight plans that are responsive and adaptable to change. GIST Planning also improves team velocity, autonomy, and alignment by reducing the pervasive influence of management. It consists of four blocks: goals, ideas, step-projects, and tasks.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Minimum Viable Product

As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.

Leaner MVP

A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was first proposed by American physicist and engineer Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s. The PDCA cycle is a continuous process and product improvement method and an essential component of the lean manufacturing philosophy.

Rational Unified Process

Rational unified process (RUP) is an agile software development methodology that breaks the project life cycle down into four distinct phases.

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.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle. These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

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.


The SMED (single minute exchange of die) method is a lean production framework to reduce waste and increase production efficiency. The SMED method is a framework for reducing the time associated with completing an equipment changeover.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

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.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


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.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

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.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Total Quality Management

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Read Also: Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Read Next: Agile Methodology, Lean Methodology, Agile Project Management, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma.

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