What is user story mapping?

Who doesn't like stories? Everyone does. Narrating an event or a process is something that people understand easily. Does that mean that stories can be used effectively in business as well? Jeff Patton thinks so. In fact, Patton wrote a book on user story mapping and how user story mapping tools are invaluable for business. So, exactly what is user story mapping?

User story mapping is a creative visualization that shows how a customer will likely engage with your product. It also establishes all the steps in a typical customer’s journey from beginning to end.

In user story mapping, all customer personas and user stories are assigned to epics with a focused goal of providing maximum value to the customer. Once it's done, stories are arranged, with user story splitting sometimes taking place to maximize the stories you have, and planned for releases.

Jeff Patton and user story mapping

Many project managers implement Agile project management to optimize their workflow and enhance organizational efficiencies. When we speak about this topic, Jeff Patton's story mapping is a concept that has to be on the list.

First introduced in his 2005 book, user story mapping was a revolutionary concept that took software developers and project managers by surprise. Simply put, user story mapping product management is a concept that starts with giving value to a customer and prioritizes what they want.

To do this, relevant stakeholders such as the project manager, software developer, or users can collect different user stories in index cards, handwritten notes, or within project management software.

User story mapping tools facilitate and convey what a customer wants in a clear manner to project teams, who can now start working on the project. When they understand the 'why' behind the end product, the project team can move towards value-driven solutions.

What are the benefits of user story mapping?

User story mapping helps project teams create and deliver a product that customers can gain value from. Formulating and iterating a product becomes simple and focused when design and product teams have a clear visual guide as a roadmap.

Priority management

Quit wasting time on product features that are not important or useful for the end-user. By utilizing the user story mapping guide as a roadmap in their iterative process, your team can weed out unnecessary tasks and focus on what’s important. That also helps prioritize the vital tasks, brainstorm, and close any visible gaps in the customer journey.

Visualize better

Visual thinking can help you focus. With the data visualization revolution underway, your team needs user story mapping software that lets them cut through the chaff and reach right to the end.

Putting the customer first

As a product developer or a designer, you may spend more time in the backend than you'd like, but having a firsthand view of the customer journey lets you prioritize the end-users' needs. This customer-centric thinking not only improves the product workflows but leads to significantly enhanced organizational outcomes.

What are the challenges of user story mapping?

Many times, the slip-ups may appear not in the original idea but in its execution. Here are some user story mapping challenges that you should keep an eye out for:

Missing client personas

For any user story mapping guide to work, a clear and precisely defined client persona is vital. Otherwise, you may end up struggling with the end-users’ goals. Since different customers tend to have diverse and independent journeys of the same product, make sure you have multiple client personas.

Lack of clear objectives

Without a clear goal, the biggest of the projects end up as a failure. Whether you're closing visible gaps in the customer journey, solving a specific issue, or optimizing product workflows, having a simple and actionable goal can help.

Works in silos

No project can succeed if the team is working independently. All the interdisciplinary teams should gel together seamlessly to bring out the best in the product development process. Customer service, sales, marketing, product development, UI & UX design — each one brings in unique insights that are crucial for getting a holistic view of the product.

How to develop a user story map

Start the user story mapping guide with a step-by-step approach using pre-made templates to document your client's user stories in real time.

  1. Understand your ideal customer persona who’ll derive value from the product you are creating
  2. Pinpoint the problem you're solving for your prospective customer or the benefit that the product is bringing to them
  3. Create a list of user activities that a customer will likely perform while using the product
  4. Match the user stories with the user activities to formulate a larger picture of the customer journey
  5. Prioritize and rank the user stories in the order in which they are most impactful for the customer journey
  6. Spot any issues in the customer journey that your team can fix to avoid any potential issues
  7. Execute sprint planning by assigning small sprints to specific team members with simple instructions on how to complete them effectively

User story mapping example

In every user story mapping, you need three key elements:

  1. A user persona
  2. A clear action step that needs to be performed
  3. An actionable benefit that the user will get once they complete the action

Let's look at a user story mapping example. For instance: "As an Agile project manager, I want to have my custom dashboards every Friday to share with the Project Management Office."

In this user story mapping example:

  1. The user persona is the Agile project manager
  2. A clear action step is the creation of custom dashboards
  3. An actionable benefit is to keep stakeholders informed with custom dashboards

Creating a similar user story mapping is simple for your team, and it would help the development team understand how an end-user would end up using the product.

Top tips for user story mapping success

Set your team up for user story mapping success with these simple but actionable tips. 

Have a single facilitator

Let one knowledgeable team member or another project manager lead the user story mapping sessions. After all, too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, right? Having a single facilitator helps keep the sessions focused and moving in the right direction.

Avoid distractions

Too much information can be distracting. Make sure that the team members present for the story mapping sessions are attentive and participative.

Focus on data

Start the story mapping with hard data and supporting documentation. Leading with the data helps teams stay on track and focus on the most important outcomes.

Involve collaborators

Getting all your stakeholders together can be challenging. If you manage to get inputs from them to perform user story mapping, the positive organizational outcomes will be quite impressive. Breaking up the user story mapping sessions into two or three sessions can help get most of the key interdisciplinary team members to fit it into their schedules.

What features to look for in user story mapping tools

To create the most delightful customer experience, you have to spend time on this crucial but important step — finding the right user story mapping tool. Let's review how you can choose the best user story mapping software for your company:

Progress tracking 

There is no reason to do any activity if its progress cannot be tracked. Harness an iteration-focused approach to product development using user story mapping tool that lets you create customizable reports and gives your team pre-made Agile teamwork templates.

Ability to do sprint planning and sprint reviews

Want to get better results? Pick a user story mapping tool that can break up the entire user story into small bite-sized chunks or sprints. With defined and easy-to-manage sprints, your team will be able to complete their sprint reviews quickly as well.

Creation of precise roadmaps

Use your story mapping software to create a holistic visual approach that keeps the entire team on the same page. Clearly define the roadmap ahead that makes sprint planning and execution a breeze.

Why use Wrike as your user story mapping software?

Groom the backlog, align your teams, and iterate effectively to deliver a product that your ideal customers want. Once you know the customer's problem, using a user story mapping software such as Wrike can help you find possible solutions to that problem quickly.

Balance team workloads, optimize the project life cycle, and facilitate real-time communication within your teams by creating a unified hub for all your information.

Cut the work in progress tasks, manage project backlogs, and ensure that workflows are optimized using visual tools such as Kanban boards and Gantt charts embedded in Agile project management software. Start a free two-week trial of Wrike and put what you’ve learned about user story mapping to work!