UX TOOLS  |  MAY 11, 2018

User Story Mapping

The first step to creating a great product is understanding exactly what it will do and what problems it will solve for people. You shouldn't be making this stuff up on the fly. A great product requires a well-thought-out strategy before it can be designed. 

A technique that will make you rethink the way you design websites, apps or almost anything for that matter is User Story Mapping.

What is User Story Mapping?

Simple maps to help us work together with others and to imagine the experience of using a product.

- Jeff Paton, User Story Mapping, 2014

I couldn’t have put it better than Jeff Paton, inarguably the master of User Story Mapping. But let’s dissect Jeff’s definition so it’s event clearer. 

Build simple maps…
User Story Mapping is an incredibly simple technique that offers a lot of value. The gist of it is mapping out what users will do on your product with sticky notes. You then order the sticky notes from left to right to tell the story of your product.

Help us work together with others…
The power of User Story Mapping is that it’s done collectively. In other words you write the story with the people who understand the product and the users' needs. User Story Mapping brings together the knowledge and vision around the product to create a “shared understanding”. Another term coined by Jeff Patton that means everyone is on the same page.

Imagine the experience of using a product…
This is where the magic happens . Each person involved in a User Story Mapping session thinks of all the tasks that the users go through in the product to reach their goal. These tasks are called User Stories.

A few examples of tasks include creating an account, logging in to a product or signing up for a newsletter. The tasks can get more specific too. For example, logging in can be broken down into entering an email and password, or signing in with Facebook.

Why use Story Mapping?

As I mentioned before, the real value of User Story Mapping is in creating a “Shared Understanding”. It’s about taking everyone’s vision of the product and mapping out one holistic story that can be reworked and rejigged until it’s just right.

Once your map out the story, you get a clear understanding of what your product needs to do. It also helps you decide what functionality is most important and needs to be built first.

For example, you can group your sticky notes into “must-have” tasks and then create another group with “nice to have tasks”.

Lastly, if AGILE development is your jam, then you’ve probably realized that these User Stories translate perfectly into your Backlog and EPICs.

How to map User Stories?

User Story Mapping is usually done as a workshop with your stakeholders (a.k.a. clients) or team members. The steps below outline how to conduct a User Story Mapping session, but every session is different so don’t be afraid to improvise.

Step 1
The first step is getting the right people in the room. Ideally you want a mix of:

  • Business people (product owners, product managers, marketing experts)
  • Technology (programmers, IT team, security)
  • Designers

Step 2
Explain what User Story Mapping is and the goals of the session. Goals will vary from project to project, but a common thread is usually creating a shared understanding.

Step 3
Start by defining the high-level activities that will happen on your product. You can do this by giving participants 5 to 10 minutes to brainstorm their ideas on sticky notes. One idea per sticky note is a good rule of thumb.

An example of high-level user activities on an e-commerce website would be:

  • choosing a product category
  • filtering the product listing
  • choosing a specific product
  • purchasing the product

Step 4
Once you have these high-level activities, get your participants to write down more specific tasks that happen under each category. For example, users can filter the product listing by best sellers, new product or by price. Each one of these filters would be a sub task of the filtering activity.

Step 5
Once you’ve broken down all the high-level activities into sub tasks you should have a pretty clear skeleton of your product. At this point you can move things around based on priority, or even break down complex tasks even further so you don’t miss any functionality.

Want to learn more about User Story Mapping?

This is just a quick overview to User Story Mapping, but there a lot of helpful resources out there that will help you master this technique. A good place to start would be Jeff Paton’s book on User Story Mapping, which I mentioned earlier. It’s a great resources if you want to dive into the nitty gritty of User Story Mapping.

Otherwise, here a few additional blog posts that I found really helpful:
How to create a User Story Map
Story Mapping, Visual Way of Building Product Backlog

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