After several changes of plans and some burned resources, the time has finally come – we can release our mammoth project. At first, the joy is great, but a feeling of disillusionment quickly sets in. With the help of the Story Mapping Workshop, we want to prevent exactly this effect by putting our users in the center. When I started working as a UX consultant at vetevo GmbH at the beginning of 2017, the company was in the midst of a turnaround, with a brilliant idea up its sleeve. The first approaches to realization were already visible. Unfortunately, they were like many young startups, they had too many ideas and too few resources, so that they could already show some things, but nothing functional yet. The road to their goal seemed almost endless. The team may have been small, but their ambition and belief let them create truly great things. To get the project back on track, we decided to do a user story mapping workshop – I’ll show you what that is exactly with an example project:
No story mapping without a user story, no user story without a persona.
Before we can impatiently start writing our user stories, we need our personas – on the basis of which we set up the “Story Mapping Workshop”. To do this, you can either build on your company’s existing personas, or generate new ones. For the latter, you have two options.
- Create a pair of quick “Lean Personas” with the involvement of some stakeholders.
- Set up a Lean Persona Workshop for your team.
The latter has the great advantage that you develop the personas together and thus everyone can identify with them. I will not go into detail about a persona workshop here, as I want to focus primarily on so-called user story mapping within this article. At the end of the day we want to work out the MVP/MVE of your project, so that you get a common feeling for the upcoming challenges – experientially this is the moment when you realize for the first time the true scale of the project. But don’t panic, things will pick up quickly from here, don’t get discouraged!
The User Story
Before you start, you should already have defined a main user story. Make sure you get all relevant stakeholders – designers, developers, project managers, etc. – on board for your workshop.
Your job isn’t to build more software faster: it’s to maximize the outcome and impact you get from what you choose to build.
Possible stakeholders for your workshop
Before you jump into the workshop, clarifying the relevant parties is essential. The best workshop in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t invite the right people. Therefore, think about who should participate in your workshop and ideally plan in advance. 1-2 weeks is a good start to make sure all relevant parties are there. Here are a few inspirations for possible participant groups from which at least one person should participate.
Always interested and skeptical, no one knows the technical possibilities better. His/her insights into the feasibility and unconditional cooperation are war deciding for the project.
Who could know better what the customer likes? He/she spends all day marketing the product and knows what the customer likes.
No one knows the suffering of your customers better than the Customer Service team, so try to get them on board. Remember, however, that the user often comes to you with the impact, not the cause.
Without C-level support, you lack the necessary backing. Even a deputy can work wonders here. At the end of the day, the greatest ideas and workshops don’t work if you don’t have the support.
The creative mind behind your product. He/she decides how the customer will use and perceive your product. Try to have one of the designers in your company, no matter if UX, UI, IxD, Consumer Designer or Service Designer. On the one hand, they are the ones who will be working on the core and on the other hand, their insides are priceless.
His ultimate goal is the success of the product. He plans the backlog with you, has your back and keeps the project on track. Therefore it is a very good decision to bring him on board.
The workshop is the cream of the crop
However, the warm-up phase and the final phase should not be ignored. Plan a lot of time. On average, you won’t get out of the workshop in less than 6 hours. For the warmup I can recommend a “Doodle Jam”. Look at the project from a holistic point of view and think about which warmup would be most efficient for the current project and team situation. Often it is good to playfully create empathy first – after all, we all want the best for the project and our users. Before we can start the workshop it is important to define the user story(s). You can either do this ahead of time to focus on the actual mapping with your team on workshop day, or together with them as part of the warmup. – Always keep your target audience in mind and don’t forget who will use the service, tool, idea or product at the end of the day.
A typical user story might look like this:
After the warmup
So that all participants are really on the same level. In my last workshops, it has proven useful to go through the personas after the warmup and read their user stories aloud.
Let’s start with a small mental exercise. Try to list all the necessary tasks that the user has to accomplish. The best way to do this is to use the individual user stories. This could look like this: “After a successful conversation with his colleague, David wants to plan a meeting and goes to his smartphone to enter the appointment. What does he need to do this? For a calendar app, this might look like the following:
Creating the backbone
After you and your team have written down all the necessary tasks, we create the backbone (also called the backbone) of the story map. To do this, we group all the existing notes with the team and then try to find a heading for all the groups. It is best to think of your user story and see what could be most important for the user / David. Can the user need a list of appointments before creating the appointment? – Probably not. In rare cases it can happen that two tasks have to be done at the same time, to make the simultaneous process clear you can stick the tasks under each other.
Into the depth
After we have built up the so-called backbone, it is time to go further into the depth by thinking about what exactly we need for each function. The best way to do this is to go through the individual tasks together using a user story and try to identify the required building blocks on this basis.
This step is about dividing the tasks into holistic releases. In plain language, this means that we consider which features provide the greatest added value for the user.
- What are the essential features of your project?
- With which features can you build a first release to get user feedback?
In order to give users a first impression of your vision and gather initial feedback, you should always keep in mind that the primary goal is to get an MVP up and running.
You’re probably thinking to yourself now, “Yeah, but I can’t break my product down into an MVP, so why should users use it?” Believe me, you’ll save yourself an incredible amount of time and nerves if you can agree on a solid MVP and push it out to market early. For more information on the topic, I can recommend you the book The Lean Startup. The book already gives you a solid idea of the topic. Remember that this is a digital product and you can always iterate. At the end of the day, your user story map might look something like this. You and your team should now have a better feel for what lies ahead. From experience, the map is helpful for the whole team to focus on the essential things. To top it off, you or the SCRUM Master now have the honorable task of pouring the resulting tickets into a ticket system of your choice (Jira, Trello, Microsoft Planner, etc.).
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What is Story Mapping?
Story Maps – Maps for the Product Backlog
Story Mapping is a technique that can be used to clearly depict the big picture of requirements based on the user experience. In doing so, the customer focus is always maintained. Story Mapping starts with the User Tasks; the tasks that need to be completed from the user’s point of view. We arrange these user tasks horizontally and sequentially so that they form a comprehensible story. We do not strive for formal modeling. Certainly, user tasks are sometimes executed in a different order or certain user tasks are completely omitted in a certain situation. If we have many User Tasks next to each other, we group User Tasks by activities. Below the User Tasks we list details. Story Mapping speaks of subtasks. Subtasks can also be used to map variants of User Tasks execution. This creates the big picture of the task in front of us. This gives us a good basis for planning releases. We start our considerations with the most important effect we want to achieve with our product. For this effect, we look for the section of the story map that is necessary for this and thus arrive at the necessary release scope. How does this technique support us?
Story Mapping offers these advantages
- Focus on user experience and the effects we want to achieve for customers.
- Minimization of release scope.
- Clear presentation of the big picture.
- Good tool to get into conversation with each other.
How does Story Mapping work?
Release planning with story maps
Below is a story map for a Walking Skeleton of a smartphone app to track work hours. A Walking Skeleton is a rudimentary version that serves as a starting point for further development. It can also be considered the first Minimum Viable Product. – The yellow cards represent user tasks that a user wants to complete with the help of the system. The green cards represent the corresponding work steps or activities (subtasks). In the time recording example, it would look like this at the moment: The user sets the date, then the start and end time, then the activity, and finally a comment if necessary. After that he sends the entry, finally he checks and corrects it if necessary. This is a plausible description of the process for recording working times. In the vertical dimension, story maps depict the priority with which the system to be developed supports individual work steps. Employees enter a large part of the working times without explanatory comments. That is why it is more important to type in the times and the activity than a comment. It is also more important to be able to enter a working time at all with mobile time recording than to enter the correct time. If the employee cannot enter the time at all, even the most comfortable input option for the time is of no use, cf. the workflow pattern for shredding user stories . Possible applications It is obvious to use the vertical dimension of a story map, prioritization, to define releases by grouping requirements according to priority. The figure shows a story map that defines two releases. They are visually delineated by the masking tape. Is there a main person responsible for the story map?
Continuously work together with the story map
From the previous illustration, one could conclude that only the product owner has anything to do with a story map, or even worse: he could keep it under lock and key. Not at all! A product backlog is only as good as it helps all those involved in the software development process – both the subject matter experts and the implementation team – to establish a common understanding of the product to be developed. If it is missing, superfluous functions are created and the ones that are needed are of less use than they could be. As a result, the product falls short of its value-creation potential. Scrum teams continuously create a common understanding of the system. In the requirements workshop, the Scrum team clarifies whether the stories for the upcoming Sprint are sufficiently well understood and how they can be verified. In Sprint Planning, user stories are selected with the sprint goal in mind. The Scrum Team works together; the Implementation Team supports the Product Owner. In Sprint Review, the Scrum Team reviews together – ideally with users and stakeholders – whether the developed product increment satisfies user needs, and generates ideas on how the product could do this better. At all of these points, the Scrum team reflects on the product backlog, and at all of these points, it can take advantage of story maps: How does the user story fit into a user’s idealized workflow and what are adjacent tasks? Does the story also affect tasks earlier or later in the workflow? In which release is the functionality well placed? So it is only logical to create the initial map not only with stakeholders such as users and funders, but also already with the implementation team. We recommend that the story map is always clearly visible in the team’s workspace. This facilitates its continuous maintenance and provides quick access for technical discussions. Finally
Tips for Story Maps
- Create story maps in workshops with relevant stakeholders and team members.
- Use Post-Its.
- Post story map prominently in team work area.
- The story map can be the basis for estimating the overall system.
- Use story maps to help with release planning.
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Agile, currently the leading approach in software development, aims to break the product under development into small pieces, called user stories. These are short descriptions of a feature from the user’s point of view. They make it possible to better manage the current tasks within a sprint and keep an eye on progress. However, there is also the danger that we as a team lose sight of the so-called “big picture” of the product to be developed. Focusing on individual features can lead to tunnel vision, which results in a loss of the big picture.
A common picture thanks to user story mapping
To avoid this effect, Agile Coach Jeff Patton developed the User Story Mapping method. He warns agile software teams against assuming that every team member has the same picture of the finished product in their heads. His rationale: “If I have an idea and put it in writing, you may have a completely different idea of it when you read the document. And in doing so, we might all ask each other ‘Do you agree with what it says?’ and we would all say ‘Yes, yes of course we agree'”. Source: Jeff Patton, User Story Mapping, O’Reilly 2015 So a text document has limited ability to evoke a shared picture that leaves no room for individual interpretation. So, according to Patton, we should not assume that all people have the same mental model of the result (outcome) in mind when it has been described in writing. Visualizations are much better for this, as they can go a long way toward creating a shared understanding. A strength of user story mapping is that it is easy to understand and use. With an increasing number of entries, backlogs also quickly become confusing. Here, too, visualization with user story mapping offers a remedy, because it can be used to show connections that can otherwise be easily overlooked when working with one-dimensional backlogs. The user story map is a kind of map that visualizes the sequence of system use by a user on the one hand, and the assignment of user stories to user wishes (i.e. to epics or features) on the other.
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 (purple): A description of the user’s steps in chronological order
- User Stories (yellow): The so-called body of the map contains the stories that are necessary to achieve the desired goal – typically prioritized and assigned to different releases
Teamwork as a prerequisite
The process of user story mapping requires teamwork from the beginning. The following steps should be followed to get everyone involved in the creation of the map.
- Shape the idea: The team should discuss why the product is being developed: What problem does the product solve? What value does it create for which users? The answers should be collected and posted above the map.
- Map the “Big Picture.” First, the most important steps are mapped in chronological order. The details of the individual steps are hung below in the “body” of the map. 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: In the team, the created map is used to discuss solutions and to 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 drafts should also be created and tested with users during this phase.
- Release Strategy: The user stories created 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 lessons learned and progress made are noted on the map. Therefore, the map should definitely hang in a place that all team members can equally see.
A user story map illustrates the interrelationship of the various user stories in an overarching model. This allows development teams to keep a better overall view of the system being developed. More importantly, it allows us to better align success factors such as planning, development, user needs, and goals. Ultimately, it’s about developing a common understanding, simplifying decisions, and achieving better results. Literature:
- 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
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