Agility, currently the leading approach to software development, aims to take the product that is under development and break it up into small pieces called user stories. These are short descriptions of a feature from the user’s point of view. They make it easier to manage current tasks within a sprint, and to keep an eye on progress.
But there is also the risk of us, as a team, losing sight of the big picture of the product under development since focusing on individual features can lead to tunnel vision.
One common vision thanks to user story mapping
To avoid this, agile coach Jeff Patton developed the method of user story mapping. He alerts agile software teams to the assumption of every team member having the same image of the finished product in mind.
His basic consideration: “If I have an idea and put it down in writing, you may have a very different idea while reading the document. And we could all ask, ‘Do you agree with what’s written there?’ and we would all say ‘yes, yes sure, we all agree'”. Source: Jeff Patton, User Story Mapping, O‘Reilly 2015
Thus, a written document is only partially suitable for creating a common image that leaves no scope for individual interpretation. Therefore, we should not assume that everyone has the same mental model of outcomes when something has been written down, said Patton.
Visualisation is much more suitable because it can make a large contribution to common understanding.
One strength of user story mapping is that it is easy to understand and apply.
In addition, as the number of entries increases, backlogs quickly become confusing. Here too, visualisation with user story mapping provides a remedy, as it can be used to represent relationships that can otherwise be easily overlooked when working with one-dimensional backlogs.
The user story map is a type of map that visualises the order of a user’s system usage, as well as the assignment of user stories to the user’s wishes (i.e. to the epics or features).
Anatomy of a story map
A user story map can consist of the following elements:
- Activities (orange) – a description of the user’s most important activities
- Backbone (violet) – description of the user’s individual steps in chronological order
- User stories (yellow) – the map’s body contains the stories that are needed to achieve the desired goal – usually prioritised and assigned to various releases
Teamwork as a prerequisite
he process of user story mapping requires teamwork right from the outset. We need to follow the steps below to get everyone involved in creating the map.
- Designing the idea – the team should discuss why the product is being developed. Which problem does the product solve? What added value does it generate for which users?
The answers should be collected and hung above the map.
- Mapping the big picture – first, the most important steps are mapped chronologically. The details of each step are hung below in the map’s “body”. If known, the individual “pain points” or “joys” of an existing solution should also be noted here. We should pay special attention to these when developing the new solution.
- Exploration – the team uses the map to discuss solutions and achieve a desired outcome. The map serves as a basis for discussion on how user goals and user experience can be optimally designed. Sketches and wireframe designs should also be created and tested with users during this phase.
- Release strategy – the created user stories are divided into different releases. The first release contains only those stories that are necessary to achieve the desired result.
- Build, measure, learn – as development progresses, the progress and lessons learned are noted on the map. The map must then be hung in a place that all team members can see.
A user story map illustrates the connection between the various user stories in an overall model. This allows development teams to keep better track of the overall system under development. More importantly, it enables us to better align success factors such as planning, development, user needs and goals. The ultimate goal is to develop a common understanding, simplify decisions, and achieve better results.
- Jeff Patton, User Story Mapping (O‘Reilly 2015)
- Donna Lichaw, The User’s Journey. Storymapping Products That People Love (Rosenfeld Media 2016)
- Jeff Patton – User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story