Nov. 18, 2021
As a product manager, using visual exercises and techniques to help your development teams properly define the tasks they need to complete is essential. It improves their work experience, and streamlines the team’s workflow, allowing them to better prioritize their work.
Some project managers choose to use simple backlogs to accomplish this, but as time goes on, they’ve become less efficient as a method to ensure the best performance out of your team. Thankfully, there exists an alternative option in the way of user story mapping. It’s a simply superior option, allowing your team to better familiarize themselves with your customer base.
What is User Story Mapping?
User story mapping, pioneered by Jeff Patton, is the act of creating a dynamic outline that represents how a consumer would interact with your product throughout their time with it. From there, your team can pore through the data and find which steps benefit the user the most. These user stories communicate the requirements of the product from the perspective of the user, which helps save time on research.
From there, your development team will be able to identify which aspects of your product needs to be prioritized and what needs to be built next, as well as whether it’s achieving its intended target performance. It’s an excellent exercise in recognizing your product’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as improving your team’s ability to spot possible oversights quicker.
Benefits of User Story Mapping
User story mapping is a technique that’s been gaining speed recently among leading product organizations. It aligns well with the principles of agile product development, focusing on customer value, delivering the product or service to the user quicker, and as a result, receiving feedback and reincorporating said feedback back into the product faster via incremental upgrades.
The benefits for your team include making it easier to visualize what needs to be done, and then prioritize everything accordingly. For customers, it reduces the amount of time they need to wait when it comes to products and increases their satisfaction with your products immensely. They will also view your business in a more positive light due to the perceived responsiveness of your development team.
Steps to User Story Mapping
User story mapping begins with the visualization of your user’s journey in the form of usable data. What you use to visualize this information is up to what resources you have on hand, though typically you’ll want to either use a simple whiteboard. If you’re choosing to go digital, then you can use software tools like Miro, Figma, the open-sourced tool Featmap, and Microsoft PowerPoint to create the user story map.
From there, regardless of which medium you’ve picked, you will need to take these specific steps to sort out your information. It is a relatively painless process, and you will find that it efficiently speeds your team’s workflow despite the extra time needed to map everything out.
1. Define the problem your product addresses
What exactly does your product do? What problems will it solve for your customers, and how does it accomplish this? It’s important to highlight this step so that you can understand how to map a customer’s goal and how they will go about using your product to achieve said goal. Highlighting the problem will make it clearer how well your product works at the end of the story.
Even if your teams aren’t building new products, but enhancements and add-ons to existing products, this step forms the basis of the user’s story, and as such it’s the most important thing to address. Never skip this step, it’s essential.
2. Understand the customers for your products
The next step in your user story map is figuring who exactly your target audience is and their level of experience. If there’s more than one target audience, then add them to the chart as well. Then, write down the end goal of your product, and list the different ways your users will interact with the product in order to achieve said goals. Try to be creative with the thought process, while also staying straightforward and goal-oriented.
Beginning the visual exercise with these personas in the main seat helps your team understand your consumers better. When your team can identify with your customers, it allows them to accurately pinpoint the possible issues with your product and how to improve the product in a way that would best benefit the target audience. Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is key to a good user story map.
3. Map user activities accordingly
Mapping the user’s activities and their stories will make up the general majority of your time with user story mapping since it forms the backbone of the exercise. Actually mapping out the activities itself is very simple, all you will need to do is list down every single way a consumer would interact with your product and then put them into a dynamic timeline up until they achieve the end goal.
This includes every single thing, so make sure it’s comprehensive. If it’s a physical product, small details like the customer holding the product and adding it to their basket need to be added in. For a product in an e-commerce platform, how they visit your pages, every sign-up request and check out method need to be accounted for. It’ll make the data more useful further down the line.
4. Map the user stories underneath the activities
Now that you’ve built up the framework for your product, its customers, the customer’s journey and the end goal, you’ll want to start breaking down every activity into a smaller story.
For example, if the activity listed is “examine the product,” it can be broken down into:
“reading product details,”
“previewing the product,” and
“comparing the product,” so list everything as such.
Be thorough with this, even if it can seem overwhelming. As we move on with the exercise, we’ll begin to organize all these smaller notes by order of importance and flow, which leads to our next step.
5. Prioritize stories according to flow and importance
Now that you’ve detailed everything, all that’s left to do is to arrange them by manner of flow and importance. This way, your team can highlight what needs to be prioritized with ease. Typically, user story maps are organized from left to right, with more important themes and stories staying at the top and less important ones staying lower. You can use the MoSCoW model of prioritization for this:
If you have different target audiences, then the best choice is to make multiple different scenarios for each one that reflects the unique way they may approach your product. Highlight any similarities between target audiences and prioritize those so your team can spend less time pleasing both audiences.
6. Identify issues and possible solutions
Your completed story map now gives you a visual of all the potential issues your product will face, and it’s you and your team’s job to identify them and find possible alternatives and solutions. Listing all your options can help you choose the most efficient method and cut down on development time before the product releases. If a product can be improved, then you can also list that down as part of the plan.
In the case of products that are iterative improvements, try to address as many of the previous product’s shortcomings as possible. Not only will it allow you to identify the solutions for that product, but will also help save research time when it comes to future products.
7. Develop a plan according to deadlines
Compile all your information, and create a development plan that will fit within your project’s deadline. Use this as a general road map to help your team plan their sprints and work efficiently towards the release date. Your teams will prioritize work based on the highest value and shortest time to complete said task. These will be organized into horizontal slices on the map, making things easier.
The final product should be focused on creating the best user experience for your customer. If you’ve followed every step up to this point and your team has been working according to the plan, then you’ll find that your product should come along nicely. By the time your release date hits, your product should be in great condition and ready to satisfy all of your customers.
We hope you can use user story mapping to improve your company’s workflow. It’s quickly becoming an essential tool for any company’s development team, and using the exercise effectively is key to customer satisfaction. It streamlines the process of improving your product while simultaneously saving a lot of time when it comes to research and development.
If you’re still having trouble with grasping the idea of user story mapping, don’t worry, we have a solution for you. With MentorCruise, you can apply for an experienced product development mentor or product management mentor who will guide you through the process and help you learn all the techniques and skills needed to do user story mapping. Receiving training from a professional is indelible in an industry like this, so consider trying it out today!
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