User stories are a fantastic method to create a more user-centric product backlog that expresses software needs in a practical, actionable manner

However, user stories alone do not show the entire situation.

A backlog that is simply a collection of user stories, according to author Jeff Patton, is “flat” and thus insufficient to assist you detect any missing links. Individual user stories are wonderful for giving you something to think about, but they lack a unifying context that may help you understand the overall journey a user takes from the time they open an app to the time they reach their final goal.

You’d be able to spot the unexplored territory, those components of the user experience that you failed to include in the original backlog, if there was a method to visualize the journey as a whole.

Story maps come in handy in this situation. In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of story mapping and how you can use it to take your user stories to the next level by connecting them into a single, cohesive user narrative.

What’s a Story Map?

Story mapping has been around for a long time, but one man, Jeff Patton, has made the most significant contribution to establishing this agile tool as a way to enhance the utility of user stories through his articles over the last decade.

In a word, story mapping is a basic card-based planning tool that allows a team to visualize the entire project and rapidly determine whether or not all of its components are in place and on track.

“Story mapping keeps us focused on people and their experience, which leads to a better conversation, and ultimately a better product,” says Patton.

“A more structured approach to release planning… consisting of organizing user stories along two separate dimensions,” according to Agile Alliances.

On the horizontal axis, usage/time is measured, while on the vertical axis, priority is measured. This grid serves as a visual depiction of the team’s workflow, breaking the project down into smaller tasks that are grouped together by activity type.

Benefits of Story Mapping

Story maps provide numerous advantages to Scrum teams who utilize them to plan their work. A well-prepared story map can do the following:

  • Assist the team in visualizing all of the tasks that go into a project, identifying dependencies, and prioritizing them as needed.
  • Slice activities into smaller tasks to encourage iterative development.
  • Keeping track of progress and increasing accountability
  • Learn more about the user’s journey and experience with the product as it progresses through its lifecycle.
  • Consider and better communicate the value a system provides to the team and other stakeholders.
Building your First Story Map

Story mapping is a simple procedure to learn because it repeats the same steps each time:

  • Write your project’s smaller tasks (user stories) on a card or post-it note.
  • Arrange the tasks into groups of logical “activities” with comparable objectives. On a card of a different color, write the name of the activity.
  • Arrange each activity on a wall or whiteboard in chronological sequence, either as rows or columns. The activity cards should be at the head of the column or at the start of the row, while the task cards should be beneath or beside them.
  • Sort the task cards in order of importance; the more significant a task is, the higher it should be in the column (or the row to the left).
  • You can add further information to the region around the map by annotating it.
Prioritizing Stories on the Story Map

The spatial organization of the cards in a story map lends itself naturally to a system of prioritization and workflow management based on the physical arrangement of the cards themselves. The cards at the top of a map, sorted with priority along the y-axis (or on the left if priority is along the x-axis), are the most critical and should be addressed in the next sprint. Each row (or column) of cards (“lane” is a catch-all phrase that can be used for both) represents a release, with the first row (or column) representing the important components that must be included in the software in order for it to function.

The system’s backbone (or leftmost column) is correctly referred to as the Backbone or Spine, and it also corresponds to the system’s minimum viable product (MVP). The rows or columns attached to the backbone are derivative functionalities that improve the system’s overall utility, and each lane finished adds another layer of value to the product and advances it to the next stage of development.

You can move cards up and down (or left and right) on a story map to indicate how important they are, and changing their lanes will also change the sprint when a specific user story will be completed in the release plan. A story map can be thought of as an Information Radiator, as it delivers a lot of information in a simple visual style.

Common Story Mapping Pitfalls to Avoid

There are a few things to keep in mind when developing your first story map to avoid making typical mistakes:

  • Early on, make extremely detailed maps.
  • Instead of user stories and goals, write software features on the sticky notes.
  • Instead of merely mapping the specific functionality you’re working on or preparing to release, map the entire product.

Story mapping is a wonderful technique to slice and dice your project into manageable tasks while also recognizing how these individual components come together to form the spine of your users’ experience with the product and how different chores relate to each other in terms of importance.

All you need are some post-it notes, a marker, and enough room to stick the notes to begin narrative mapping today.

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