Sunday, July 26, 2015

Story Telling with Story Mapping

Once upon a time, a customer had a great buying experience on a website.  The customer loved how from the moment the customer was on the site to the moment they checked out a product, the process was intuitive and easy to use.   The process and design of the customer experience was not by accident.  In fact, it was done very methodically using story mapping. 
What is Story Mapping
Story Mapping is both a visual practice that provides you with an understanding of how a user might use a feature and a decomposition practice that helps you consider how you may incrementally decompose an idea. Established by Jeff Patton, the visual portion helps the team understand the customer experience by imagining what the customer process might be.  This promotes the team to think through elements of what the customer finds as valuable. 

The decomposition portion allows the team to think through a number of options which represent pieces of work (e.g. epics and user stories) on how to incrementally build the feature to gain the most feedback from the customer.  This helps both validate the value of the idea and ensures the idea is being built in a way that provides the best customer experience. 
Benefits of Story Mapping
Story Mapping is a way to bridge the gap between an idea and the incremental work ahead.  It's a great way to decompose an idea to a number of unique user stories.  What are some additional benefits of story mapping?
  • It moves away from thinking of functionality first and toward the customer experience first. 
  • It provides the big picture and end-to-end view of the work ahead
  • It's a decomposition tool from idea to multiple user stories. 
  • It asks the team to identify the highest value work from a customer perspective and where you may want the most customer feedback.
  • It advocates cutting only one increment of work at a time instead realizing that feedback from the current increment will help shape subsequent increments. 
Getting started with Story Mapping
How might you get started in establishing a story map?  It starts by having wall space available to place the customer experience upon.  Next you educate the team on the story mapping process (see below).  Its best to keep to a Scrum team size (e.g., 7 +/-2), where everyone participates in the process.  Then as a team, follow these high-level steps:
  • Create the “backbone” of the story map.  These are the big tasks that the users engage with. Capture the end-to-end customer experience.  Start by asking “what do users do?”  You may use a quiet brainstorming approach to get a number of thoughts on the wall quickly
  • Then start adding steps that happen within each backbone.  
  • From there explore activities or options within each step.  Ask, what are the specific things a customer would do here?  Are there alternative things they could do?  These activities may be epics and even user stories. 
  • Create the “walking skeleton”.  This is where you slice a set of activities or options that can give you the minimum end-to end value of customer experience.  Only cut enough work that can be completed within one to three sprints that represents customer value. 
As you view the wall, the horizontal access defines the flow of which you place the backbone and steps.  The vertical access under each contains the activities or options represented by epics and user stories for that particular area. Use short verb/noun phrases to capture the backbones, steps, and activities (e.g. capture my address, view my order status, receive invoice). 

Next time your work appears to represent a customer experience, consider the story mapping tool as a way to embrace the customer perspective.  Story mapping provides a valuable tool for the team to understand the big picture, while decomposing the experience to more bite size work that allows for optionality for cutting an increment of work.  Its another tool in your requirements decomposition toolkit.  


  1. Mario,
    Very good article.Isnt this the regular process of writing stories in agile projects ? A short video case study of this process and how it evolves into final storyboard and how it ties in to the obe to three sprints for the given team size would be really very helpful.

  2. Hi Upendra, Story Mapping is a different level of idea decomposition. When you start with an idea, it can be very challenging for many to immediately decomposite to the user story level. The story mapping technique helps get an idea to the next level of decomposition, an increment most likely made up of epics. From there you would decompose further to user stories that would fit into a sprint.

  3. Great article! Thank you for posting.

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