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A Simple Guide to Getting into User Story Mapping

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Historically, product backlogs were created to effectively illustrate and communicate product requirements and visions. Although many product development teams still make use of flat product backlogs, the limitations of these backlogs have become increasingly apparent.

It is these limitations that inspired agile practitioner Jeff Patton in 2005 to develop a new and innovative way to arrange user stories in a backlog. Patton’s method, which became known as user story mapping, revolutionized product backlogs as they were known. Here are a few things important things to know when getting into story mapping.

Learn What User Story Mapping Is

User story mapping is a multi-dimensional, visual exercise that provides product managers and product development teams with a unique view of their product backlog that puts focus on the user experience. A user story map allows you to compile a developmental plan within the broader context of the user experience while simultaneously making it easier to prioritize your user outcomes.

User story mapping makes use of conceptual user stories to validate and create a shared understanding of the steps required to create products that are well-received by users. In flexible organization, user story maps serve as a valuable alternative to a flat list of backlog items and expansive requirement documentation.

Understand the Elements of a Story Map

Before creating your first story map it is important to understand the different elements that it consists of. The backbone typically runs across the top two lines of your story map. It holds the rest of the story map together and summarizes the user journeys. These journeys describe the objectives of the user which are very specific to a particular part of the project. Products that form part of the same industry may have several journeys in common. In the case of digital products, for example, common journeys may include ‘sign in’, ‘reset password’, ’find support’, and ‘buy product’.

Other important elements of a story map include the steps, which literally indicate the steps a user will take to achieve a specific objective, and stories and features which indicate the extent of the functionality of the product. By making use of a reputable user story mapping tool it becomes considerably easier to craft an accurate and effective story map to illustrate the product backlog.

Appreciate the Benefits of Story Mapping

There are many ways user story mapping can help a product development team boost its processes. When using a story map, creating a user map automatically becomes a priority alongside the work required to deliver a positive, complete product experience.  Other benefits include building a shared understanding between team members, being able to assemble and unite different stakeholders, and making it easier to turn big ideas into solid developmental plans.

User story mapping also encourages tinier releases and smaller release cycles while inspiring streamlined thoughts and discouraging over-building. Finally, it is easier to onboard new team members and separates your sprint backlog from your product backlog when a user story map is in place.

Creating a User Story Map

Once you understand the different elements of a story map, you can start creating one. When doing so, there are a number of steps that should be followed. The first step involves identifying the problems that can be solved by your product and then implementing a goal-first approach for the duration of the mapping. Once you have determined the problems your product can solve it is time to identify and fine-tune your target audience.

User story mapping can be especially useful when a product has a very diverse target audience or more than one overlapping audience. Next, user activities must be mapped followed by the user stories.  Once the main elements of the map are in place, the stories need to be ranked according to their priority.  Dependencies, gaps, technical requirements, and suitable alternatives also need to be considered

Be Prepared for Some Challenges

As useful as user story mapping can be, it is important to prepare yourself and your team for some challenges that come up. Some of the most common issues stem from the inability to identify an outright audience, difficulty in asserting what problems can be solved by your product, and the challenges typically associated with a physical story map. Thankfully, the latter can be avoided with relative ease by making use of a digital story mapping tool that allows you to back up your work and share your map with remote teams as required.

User story mapping can be of great benefit to a product development team. It is even more effective and beneficial when making use of a reliable digital tool to create and edit the story map as often as required.

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