How Might Groups Benefit from Using Story Mapping?

For decades, software development firms have employed this method in their work. Whilst research into the target audience is integral, the process also involves taking into account various specific details. Focusing on this level of detail is necessary to ensure the desired outcome is achieved.

It is important to consider how to best utilize the results of the initial research, specifically the user interviews. To gain a better understanding of the audience, one could create user stories and compile them into a product backlog; this is a widely accepted practice.

Every Agile-driven team has a Product Backlog, which is a prioritized list of features and tasks that need to be completed in order to release the product. This facilitates organization of upcoming work and helps to communicate the project vision and needs. We have all benefitted greatly from maintaining this approach.

Despite their usefulness, product backlogs have certain limitations. To address this, Jeff Patton, an advocate of agile methods, started exploring alternative ways of structuring user data in 2005. His Story Mapping methodology has since had a revolutionary impact on software development.

Using Story Mapping Instead of Flat Product Backlogs

It is essential to understand the concept of ‘user narrative’ in order to effectively use Story Mapping. To explain in simple terms, a user narrative is a written description of the software’s features and capabilities, presented in the voice of the end user. Generally, it is structured like this:

To get [outcome], I would want to [use case] as a [user type].

Business analysts, project managers, stakeholders and product owners frequently employ the aforementioned framework to determine the requisite functionality of software. Upon completion, the team will have a selection of user stories which can serve as the foundation of a product backlog.

The resultant product backlog has a deficiency in that it is flat, i.e., it is simply a list of items for the development team to produce and does not provide any context to the project. Without access to relevant background information, engineers lack the understanding of what they are supposed to create, how they should construct it, and why they are doing it. These flat product backlogs often have the following issues:

  • It is conceivable that attempting to assign priority to user stories in a hierarchical manner without the inclusion of additional data could lead to confusion and conflicting priorities.
  • There’s no holistic view of the product since the individual user stories in the product backlog don’t flow together.
  • There is no user flow since broad tasks have been broken down into granular ones that now seem more like development chores than user activities.

Methods and procedures exist to address any issues that may arise when planning a new product development. However, another approach known as ‘Story Mapping’ has become increasingly popular as it avoids such issues from the outset. As a result, Patton’s methodology has become a widely adopted approach.

Simply Put, What Is the Purpose of Story Mapping?

Narrative Mapping is the process of constructing User Story Maps. These maps are a visual representation of a product backlog, featuring the associated user stories. The vertical axis of the User Story Map highlights the importance of each story, while the horizontal axis presents the user journey through the process.

Structure-wise, story maps consist of the following components:

  • The backbone of the map is constructed from “epics”, which provide a high-level overview of user engagement with the product. These epics outline the steps required for a user to complete an activity, and are arranged in a horizontal format.
  • Stories are organized in a hierarchical structure, with some being of greater importance than others. Additionally, some stories depict a user’s journey horizontally, thus being arranged in the horizontal axis. For instance, basic search, search filters and advanced search are some of the narratives that can be used to illustrate the ‘search epic’.
  • Personas are simplified representations of the types of people who could use the programme and the contexts in which they would do so. This includes characterizing typical users and providing hypothetical scenarios on how they would use the programme as outlined in the user stories.
  • The nice-to-haves are additional elements that are not essential for the user narrative map but could provide a competitive edge in the future.

User Story Maps are highly detailed, so it is beneficial to create them as a team. It is not just the responsibility of the Product Owner or Engineering Manager, but also Business Analysts, Project Managers, Stakeholders and Engineers as they can offer valuable user stories and insight into how to prioritize them.

The team’s collaborative efforts were rewarded in the end due to everyone providing valuable input and having an understanding of the objectives and expected results of each user story. To summarise, creating a user narrative map as a group provides a comprehensive overview of the project and aids clearer communication of desired outcomes.

Why Draw a Map of Your Story

Adopting a well-structured narrative map may help to overcome the limitations of the flat product backlog and provide a more direct route to development. This approach could bring a number of benefits, including:

  • The vertical axis enables user stories to be ordered in priority. Furthermore, the relationships between user stories are visible, enhancing the clarity of each story and their mutual dependencies.
  • The journey of the user is tracked, and the consecutive stages are depicted along the horizontal axis. This allows all members of the team to easily understand the significance of each occurrence and its importance in the larger context.
  • The product vision can be adapted to suit changing requirements and goals. This makes it easier for the team to implement the user stories and ensures that it is compatible with the majority of current projects.
  • Because several people on the team work together to construct the narrative map, everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals.

Is It Preferable to Use Story Maps Instead of Product Backlogs?

It is not possible to assert that narrative maps are definitively better than other approaches, however, they do present some noteworthy benefits. The most crucial advantage is that it allows the team to visualize the final outcome more clearly as they work on it. Compared to the more abstract product backlog, the visual representation of the map offers greater clarity.

It is clear that having a list of products to work on is a beneficial approach. A competent product manager can easily create an extensive product backlog that outlines all the requirements, deadlines, sprints and releases that developers need for the development of the software. Nevertheless, the collaborative nature of Story Mapping is an essential aspect of the process and may lead to additional improvements.

It is clear that Story Mapping is an invaluable tool for streamlining product development processes. This is especially true when creating Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) or tackling more complex tasks, as Story Mapping encourages team communication and cooperation by providing a visual representation of goals and objectives. Consequently, the advantages of Story Mapping for development teams cannot be understated.

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