User Story Mapping: from idea to release

21 July 2022

  • Author: Anna Lavrova

  • Difficulty: int

  • Time: 9 min

If it is difficult to assess the stages of the development, backlog starts getting gaps, the planned release is disrupted, and the teams cannot agree who contributed to the product the most, then it is time to learn a new tool: User Story Mapping.

Thanks to this technique, the team has a clear understanding of the whole picture of the project, divided into iterations from idea to release. Visual design helps see the relationship between individual stages, correctly set priorities, and never miss important tasks.

This article tells us how to prepare for the User Story Mapping session, who needs to be invited to the meeting, and how to accompany the process to achieve a good result.

What is User Story Mapping?

The mapping creation technology is a great way to bring together everyone involved in the project, set the task visually, and display what a user’s journey through the product looks like. The list of requirements (backlog) is formed and formalized by the joint efforts of stakeholders; this is the quintessence of everything you know about users: where they feel confident in the product, and where – where – which tasks and actions are more important.

The user map is based on three tools: User Persona, User Story, and User Journey:

  • User Persona describes a specific user with goals and problems that the character hopes to solve with the product. Possible users can be considered individually by personas or by groups: casual user, business user, the power user.
    User Persona
  • User Story is 1-2 sentences on what someone wants to achieve while using your product. Usually, the stories are created according to the following pattern: “As a (type of user), I want (goal/desire) so that (benefit and value).”
    For example, I want to click on the button to leave my information and get a free book. The other technical format of story creation aims to find ways to simplify the performance of frequently used actions for the client and provide the desired result in just “two clicks.”
    User Story
  • User Journey describes the client’s tasks and actions, experience, emotions, thoughts at all stages of interaction with the product. The user’s steps are thought out and then fixed in the team-friendly format: on paper, on Trello board, or visualizations in MIRO or similar tools. User Journey steps will be required to create a “skeleton” base of User Story Mapping.
    User Journey

User Journey can be created by people who work with users directly: UI/UX specialists, marketing or product team, analysts, user research specialists, project managers, and of course, product owners and product managers.

How the map of user stories can be helpful:

  • keeps focusing on the customer and his progress with the product;
  • visualizes user’s steps (User journey);
  • clearly shows the relationship between the client’s actions and the User story;
  • allows you to see additional opportunities, which leads to the emergence of good ideas;
  • forms a common understanding among all stakeholders.

After a User Story Mapping session, every involved person will leave the room with the same formed understanding: what we do, for whom, what the steps of creating a needed reality look like, and why the user needs it.

User Journey: a practical example

User Journey: практический пример

Let us take a situation when a person buys an online ticket to the cinema and then exchanges an electronic version for an actual ticket at the cinema ticket office. What actions does the user have to do in a specific order?

The steps in User Journey may look like this:

Go to the website, → log in, → choose a movie → , select time and date, → choose seats → to indicate the number of tickets, → pay to → get to the cinema, → stand in line for the exchange, → enter the hall, → find a seat, → watch the movie.

The list should include all steps to achieve the desired result, and watching the film is not necessarily the ultimate goal. Maybe, the user wants to buy a ticket online to:

  • get a paper ticket and give it to someone as a gift;
  • exchange for the paper version and see the film in a week;
  • email it to a friend – this may be your crazy idea, which later becomes an additional feature.

The first point you have added to User Journey can be the user’s entry point, both to the product itself and one of its features. For example, all users need to open an app or a website, but there can be different ways to access the ticket selection screen.

Please note that there are multiple options to the above-mentioned example due to differences in personas and their goals and behavioral patterns.

How to prepare for User Story Mapping

To make the meeting productive, think out a few things in advance: having enough time, creating a list of participants, and choosing a place to hold the meeting at.

Whom to invite to the meeting

For the first session, gather stakeholders who look at the product from different positions:

  • Users’ representatives: those who created a User Journey or people with user experience, support specialists who help customers pass all stages.
  • If the company has relationship managers or user researchers, invite them because they know what users know and where they find difficulties.
  • Development teams’ representatives will be able to communicate the session results to the rest of the team.
  • Product owners business people who are interested in having a profit from what you do and making release decisions.
  • UI/UX specialists;
  • Architects to show stakeholders the order of changes and make sure the platform or the product will sustain the changes.

Prepare a basic scheme.

Постройте скелет-основу — User Journey

Build a “skeleton” base – User Journey, a set of all the steps that the user will take on the product plus his actions in each step:

  • The upper horizontal line, the “spine,” is the User Journey, the client’s steps mentioned in the exact order in which the person performs them.
  • Vertical lines, “ribs,” are action details for each step, arranged by priority top to bottom order.

Organize the workspace

You will need an online or offline board and colored stickers to indicate different tasks or activities for the session.

For example, user path – green stickers, something from User Story – yellow, possible difficulties – red, all business preferences about priorities or releases – small bright stickers the size of a quarter of a sticker.

When the stakeholders enter the room, everything necessary for the process should be already prepared:

  • Sample Legend – sticker examples with text written on them placed in a particular place, so people can understand what colors to use.
  • Parking spot – space for noting questions and potential complications.
  • Territory for the map itself: if the meeting is offline, the map can be a particular board, a wall, or even a window.
  • Space for new crazy ideas to the right of the card. You can note the ideas that have arisen during the discussion and may be implemented in the future.
  • Data corner. Here will be placed all information about the user persona. When you add some feature, the data for it is also placed in the data corner. The example of buying a movie ticket can be analytics: what percentage of users buy tickets for someone else, what people do with a ticket after payment.

To build the map remotely, use digital tools: Cardboardit.com, Storiesonboard.com, Craft.io, MIRO.

How to Run User Story Mapping

user story

Preliminary preparation has been carried out: the user’s step-by-step path has been prescribed, information about the client has been collected, portraits of personas have been made. The meeting holding space is appropriately organized. It is time to invite the stakeholders and start the session.

Visually, the map of the stories at all three stages looks like a horizontal “spine” line and vertical “ribs,” but the goals for each stage of the creation will be different.

1.Creating Details

User Journey is made in advance and has steps placed in order of implementation: it is a horizontal line with red squares in the picture. Green stickers – actions – are created directly at the meeting with the participants. The duration of such a session is about 4 hours.

Goal: create the details that the user will take at each step.

user story

In the movie theater example, the horizontal red line is the sequence of all the steps a person takes when paying for and receiving a ticket.

Now you need to work out vertical “ribs” to each step.

What examples of user stories can be thought of for the phase when the user chooses a place on the site or in the app?

For example:

“I want to see the available seats, so I choose the closest to the exit, the most comfortable.”

“I want to see the hall’s scheme to select suitable seats for a large company.”

When considering examples, consider two scenarios for each action: the user succeeded or failed.

At this stage, additional information may appear in the data corner may appear:

  • business goals or weak points;
  • types of users using the system;
  • goals or weaknesses of the user.

Record all ideas, even the strangest ones, in the corner for crazy ideas: for example, the ability for registered users to see their favorite places first or see where their friends have taken tickets to if they have given their consent. These features might not be a top priority, but they can be introduced later into the product. That is why such ideas need to be visualized, too, so nothing is lost in the discussion process.

2.Clarification of prepared map: refinement

After all, actions have been written, difficulties voiced, ideas recorded, it is time to evaluate and prioritize decisions. To do this, reconvene the group by slightly changing the circle of participants. Representatives from three directions will help set priorities correctly: business, users, development. Select what will appear in the first release in a different color and separate the releases from each other with lines.

The second stage takes about 2 hours.

Goal: highlight more and less critical actions for your business and draw a line on what will appear in the first, second release, or iteration.

Уточнение подготовленной карты: refinement

3.Development of the technical component

At this stage, the development team specifies the functional details that the user will need for each action: frontend, backend, and others.

The actions of the system are created for each persona-actor. Using the example with a movie theater, an actor can be a ticket buyer, a friend who was given a ticket, a cashier, a cinema owner. Every actor has a purpose and value in using the product.

At the same time, the development team also has a division of actors by functional: frontend, backend, testing, design. Several specialists usually implement each feature with a different amount of work on features.

user story

The developer, the tester, and the user experience manager will help you detail and evaluate all gathered data correctly.

Goal: determine what functions are needed for a minimum viable product, briefly state the intention: what the system must do for the user.

Start to implement what you have planned. Refer to the map throughout the project: add new details, update priorities, mark completed tasks. After three stages, you get a ready picture of the actions for all teams.

Check List on User Story Mapping

  1. Place the user’s steps (User Journey) horizontally to answer the question: “What do people do with this system?”
  2. Move the steps in the order in which the user “travels on the product.”
  3. Under a client’s step or multiple steps, write out a User Story, which can be divided into small tasks if necessary.
  4. Look for similar actions performed by similar people to achieve similar goals. Use different colors to prioritize.
  5. Determine what will appear in the first release: a list of the main actions that the application supports. It can be a more refined release or a model called “walking skeleton” – software that supports the least number of necessary tasks while interacting with the user.
  6. After each release, make changes to the overall picture and re-prioritize the tasks.

User Story Mapping helps to manage projects flexibly and work with the customer’s requirements, presenting them visually. Building custom maps allows you to correctly set and plan tasks, make changes into account and, ultimately, increase the company’s profit.

Anna Lavrova

Anna is an Agile Coach at Wemanity Belgium. She has over 9 years of experience in Project Management. Over the course of these years, she was a Project Manager in outsource, outstaff, product, and startup companies. She also worked with the US governmental projects, launched several startups. Now Anna lives in Brussels and works with corporations that aspire to be Agile.