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How to do user story mapping to define a product increment

How to do user story mapping


In this blog post I will show you how to do user story mapping. I'll cover the basics of user stories and guide you through the essential steps of user story mapping. Therefore, we will create an user story map example for an smartphone ToDo lists app. In the end, you will be able to easily define your the next increment for your software product. 

An example of a user story map for a ToDo Lists app. Picture: Software-has-bugs.com Source: Jeff Paton (jpattonassociates.com)

Step 1: Describe the process


The starting point of every story map is a sequence of user actions, activities, or a process. For example, you could differentiate the overall activity of doing laundry into sorting, cleaning and drying the clothes. 


First, you need to define the actions your users perform.


  • How is the user solving the problem today?
    Describe the actions a user is doing today. This works really well if you want to create a digital solution for something that is done manually. For example, you can use the activity of doing laundry to break it into user actions. If you want to create an Android app to show the status of the washing machine, the story map will help you to look at the overall picture. The sequence of user actions is THE backbone for your user story map and helps you to create a holistic product.

Don't worry!

Initially, you might struggle to identify the right user actions. This is not a problem as you can add, remove, split or merge user actions while working on the user story map. (Note: From my own experience starting with 3 to 5 user actions keeps it simple. Your story map will grow if you are digging deeper into your problem. This is good!)

  • 1
    I wake up at 6 am.
  • 2
    I open the journal.
  • 3
    I am reflecting the last day.
  • 4
    I am writing into the journal.
  • 5
    Every month I am reviewing old entries.

Step 2: Brainstorm user stories


In this step, you need to think about user stories.


"User stories are short, simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new capability, usually a user or customer of the system. They typically follow a simple template" - Mike Cohn


Create user stories for every action defined in the previous step. For some actions, you might find more user stories than for others. The simple reason for this is that you are more likely to think up user stories for the core of your product. 

User stories are your user needs to solve the problem end-to-end using the activities you defined.


A simple schema for writing user stories is: 

As a blog author, I want a fast editor to write posts quickly.


Personally, I leave out the first part on sticky notes. It simply saves space. If you connect one user action to a specific type of user, you won't lose the context. 


Now, brainstorm about 15 - 30 user stories (features) your product should have. Identifying user stories for all actions helps you build an end-to-end solution for your user's problem. 

Step 3: Assign stories to Actions


A Storymap Example: A voice app for journaling.

Take your user stories and assign them to user actions. Ta-Dah! This is your first version of your user story map. For now, you can ignore the pink sticky notes on the left side of the figure above. 


At the same time, this is the first test for the actions you defined. As you can see above, I sorted the user actions horizontally. If something doesn't look good, e.g. there are too many or fewer stories assigned to one user action, this is the time to change it. Add, remove, split or merge actions and stories.


The goal of this step is to get a better understanding about your product's story. Use the insights you gain to adopt your user story map.

Step 4: Define product increments


Avoid to building everything at once


In the last step, you need to define reasonable product increments. The main idea is to create a minimal viable product (MVP). The idea is to define a version of your product that provides benefit to its users but requires minimal effort.


What is the intention of your MVP? Maybe one of the following?


  • Test your idea with real customers.
  • Prioritize features or user stories.
  • Reduce your time-to-market.
  • Validate assumptions about your target customers.
  • Verify technical feasibility.

 

Prioritizing user stories


According to your intention, you can use different strategies to prioritize user stories:

  • Estimate the complexity of user stories to focus on building a minimal product.
  • Prioritize features according to their uncertainty or risk.
  • circle
    Test the technical feasibility of your product.
  • Any combination of these two or other criteria that feel right for you. 

Example: an Alexa Skill


Just within 30 minutes, I created this simple story map for an Alexa skill I want to build. In my blog post A Storymapping Example: Creating an Alexa Skill for Keeping Journal you can find an example user story map to get more inspiration.


Learn more about user story mapping.

Markus Kühn

Markus is a product owner of a distributed Scrum team where he experiences the daily struggles between user needs, software craftsmanship and actually delivering software. He wants to share what makes software development more reliable, efficient, fun and easier to deliver. Read more about his story on the About page.

2

How to create better understanding for user stories

Backlog Grooming Meeting

Just recently, I read about shared understanding in Jeff Paton’s book “User Story Mapping”. A couple of days later, I asked myself: “How am I actually creating better understanding of user stories during backlog grooming meetings?” 


In my first days as a product owner, the main goal of backlog grooming meetings was to get as many stories estimated. Nowadays, we know much better. Instead, our focus is on quality grooming.


In this post, I want to describe which strategies help to prepare high-quality backlog grooming meetings. These things helped me to create a better understanding of user stories in the team.

How are we doing backlog grooming?


Let me quickly explain, how we are doing backlog grooming meetings in general:


We are having backlog grooming meetings every week. This helps us to stay ahead of our work.

As we are a distributed team all our meetings are virtual (voice-only). Hence, everybody needs to speak up if things aren’t clear. 


Estimating story points shows the biggest misunderstandings in the team. Nevertheless, this isn’t enough in many situations. Having the same estimates during pointing poker, doesn’t necessary lead to shared understanding.

How to improve shared understanding?


These are the 3 basic rules that my team and myself experienced to work well.

  • Groom less stories in detail than many stories quickly and with shallow understanding.
  • Explain the context of a story. Relate stories to user needs and your product vision or long term goals.
  • Define product releases to show your team when and how you would like to achieve your goals.

In different words.. 


You need to explain what a story is about, why it is important and when it should be done.

Do you like this article? Checkout my posts about 8 skills every software engineer needs in a Scrum team to get a real team player.

Image Reference: Pixabay

This article was posted originally on Medium as "Why shared understanding should be the goal of backlog grooming"


2

A Storymapping Example: Creating an Alexa Skill for Keeping Journal

The idea


Keeping Journal

I am writing journal for about three month now. Reflecting about the good things on the day before, helps me to stay positive. It is really changing my attitude, so I decided to create an Alexa skill to record my thoughts instead of writing them down.
Note: Actually writing us relaxing itself. If you want to stick to it I can really recommend the 5-Minute Journal

Why an Alexa Skill

I always wanted to create a skill that is really interactive. Although, I want to learn about Amazons Web Service (AWS). Let's see how interactive this idea will become. Finally, this video by Gary Vee motivated to start.

Define Activities


In the first step, I broke down my 10 minutes of writing journal in five steps:

  • 1
    I wake up at 6 am.
  • 2
    I open the journal.
  • 3
    I am reflecting the last day.
  • 4
    I am writing into the journal.
  • 5
    Every month I am reviewing old entries.

The Storymap


In the second step, I brainstormed some user stories and categorized them into the different user activities. Afterwards, I organized them according to their importance to define how I want to start the development.

 

The Concept

I have no experience in developing an Alexa skill yet. With the first iteration I want to keep it simple and learn about the Alexa Skill Kit


The MVP

A real journal doesn't forget anything. For the first release I will enhance the skill to remember e.g. the last week of entries to replay them later. 


More to come..

There are many more features to extend the Alexa skill. Storymapping helped me to decided which features to pick first. Later, I will be able to prioritize what I left out for now. 

Markus Kühn

Markus is a product owner of a distributed Scrum team where he experiences the daily struggles between user needs, software craftsmanship and actually delivering software. He wants to share what makes software development more reliable, efficient, fun and easier to deliver. Read more about his story on the About page.