Whiteboards Story Map Header

Best practices and tips for using user story mapping

Before you develop a new feature, you need to make sure users want it: That the new enhancement covers users’ needs, and all the actions they take while using the developed functionality or app. 

User story maps make this part of the process much easier. Maps describe the feature visually and prioritize items or stories that need developing, highlighting which are most critical for your users. 

Most importantly, user story maps define the work you and your team need to do to create the desired user experience and build a product users will love.

This article explains user story mapping and its benefits for remote software development teams. You’ll also find a step by step guide for creating a user story map in Jira.

What is user story mapping for agile?

User Story Mapping is a concept of visualization of all the tasks a user completes when using a product. It’s also a way to arrange user stories to illustrate the customer’s journey while using the product. 

User Story Mapping consists of goals, tasks and activities ordered in a chronological order concerning the overall product workflow.

Jeff Patton invented user story maps because extensive documentation and lengthy explanations can easily be misinterpreted. 

Creating a “map” of user stories facilitates conversation and helps team members come to a shared understanding so they can build the right solution for a particular group of users.

When distilling the customer journey into user stories, team members collaborate to cover every step, brainstorming every activity. As a result, we end up with a comprehensive user story map. 

Because everyone works together to piece together the user journey, the resulting backlog makes sense to the whole team without additional explanation. 

There’s no need to go into more detail about the particular feature or app flow because the development team is intimately familiar with the user story map and where the feature fits in.

Whiteboards Story Map Header

Why do a user story map in the first place?

Story maps help developers to focus on what matters to users. After all, your product should help users complete their journey. Otherwise, they will drop it altogether (or try your competitor’s product).

User story maps are a visual support to building a comprehensive project plan. Maps help prioritize tasks, slotting them into releases to fast track the most valuable stories, while still keeping track of lower value features for later releases. 

This activity brings focus to items that will deliver high business value: those that will meet users’ most urgent needs and goals.

Let’s look at some benefits of user story mapping:

  • Highly collaborative and intuitive
    When the team gathers to build a story map, they gain a common understanding of the customers’ activities while using the app or feature. This minimizes the risk of misinterpretation and opens the discussion to new ideas and different points of view.
  • Helps identify risks and dependencies
    The visual representation of the story map helps teams identify potential impediments, risks and dependencies that could impact successful product delivery.
  • Customers’ goals come first
    User story mapping puts the team into customers’ shoes. They experience the product from the users’ perspective so they can deliver the best possible solution.
  • Maps help your team plan and prioritize
    Team members easily understand and follow user story maps. Unlike written explanations, illustrations clearly depict each step at a glance. Your team can quickly grasp how large items can be broken down into smaller ones, then grouped into releases based on how valuable they are to users. Then you can deliver the most valuable feature quickly and test the concept.

Five steps to create a user story map with your team in Jira

Once upon a time, teams gathered in a conference room and scrawled their user story map onto a physical whiteboard, wall, or floor, using post-it notes and tags to create a map. Then they’d then take a picture of the map and send it to other team members.

With the new reality of remote work and distributed teams, getting together physically isn’t always possible. But you can still collaborate on user story maps (in real-time or asynchronously) using online user story mapping tools.

We’ll show you how to do user story mapping online using one available tool (Whiteboards for Jira). The screenshots below show a user story mapping exercise for developing the DC and Server versions of Whiteboards.

Step 1: Identify users and Define the goal

Because user story maps should focus on your customers or users, the first step in creating a story map is to identify the goal a user is trying to achieve or the problem they want to solve.

Team members consider the challenge from the user’s perspective using the user story format – “As a [user type], I want to [action] so that [benefit].”

Whether you’re developing a feature or an entire app, you need to think about all possible users, because they might have different goals. Their individual objectives will determine how they use the developed enhancement or app.

Approach the journey from all identified users’ perspectives so you don’t miss any necessary activity. That way, team members will share a common understanding of the target audience and eliminate activities that are not relevant to any user groups.

Step 2: Identify and group user activities

Once you’ve got a handle on the users’ goal (or goals, if different users might use the same feature to accomplish different things), the next step is to identify and list all the actions users will take to interact with your app or feature. 

 

Identify users’ goals and actions and map how they will interact with your app or feature.

Now your team brainstorms together. In this example: “As a Jira Admin, I want to connect Jira and Whiteboards” will be the defined user and a goal, and “install the Whiteboards plugin in Jira DC” will be an action the user needs to take.

Together with a team, you can brainstorm activities, then group them into user stories.

Step 3: Prioritize the items

Now you’re ready to prioritize your newly crafted user stories, organizing them from top to bottom based on their importance. 

User flow, showing how the user moves through the feature or app, orders stories horizontally, usually from left to right.

Now that you’ve created your story map and prioritized users’ needs, you can convert the cards into the backlog items. Whiteboards for Jira enables you to turn all the card items into Jira Issues—epics, tasks or subtasks—and map the dependencies between them.

 

Prioritize user stories into sprint or version swim lanes by dragging up and down.

As the user stories get ordered, the team will have a better picture of the map and a greater ability to spot dependencies, risks or bottlenecks, address them now, during the design phase, and avoid any problems during the development.

Step 4: Convert cards into Jira issues

Now that you’ve created your story map and prioritized users’ needs, you can convert the cards into the backlog items. Whiteboards for Jira enables you to turn all the card items into Jira Issues—epics, tasks or subtasks—and map the dependencies between them.

 

Convert sticky notes into Jira user stories.

Step 5: Add issues to a version

While decomposing the user story map, draw lines on the board to indicate in what version a certain story will be released. Once you convert stories into issues, you can then bulk update issues, assigning them to a specific version.

You’re ready to rock!

Your user story map is ready! (Don’t worry, you can always come back with the team to add notes, research findings or feedback.) 

And when you update any issue in your Jira, it will be automatically reflected on your board. It will work both ways, so when you update any issues on the whiteboard, it gets updated in Jira.

But what if we work asynchronously?

Since 2020, many software development teams have shifted to a remote or distributed approach to work. 

If your team members are distributed across time zones, you can still create user story maps as a team. It just takes some advance prep! 

Using Whiteboards for Jira, team members can make notes about the customer journey, key tasks, user needs, etc. By “brain dumping” on the whiteboard, they free themselves up to focus on the actual exercise of user story mapping when the team gets together synchronously.

Thinking things through independently beforehand helps ensure nothing is overlooked. And moving items into epics or swim lanes (or even turning them into Jira issues) is easy in Whiteboards. 

Team members can use their asynchronous notes to populate the user story map they create together.

Other Tools That Can Help

Whether your team is synchronous or asynchronous, lots of tools can support team members in their daily routines. There are dedicated solutions for creating user story maps (like Whiteboards for Jira). But If you want to get your team together in one collaborative online space, almost like a central hub for brainstorming, planning, retrospective, estimation and creating user story maps, there are lots of tools out there to choose from. 

Below we compare Whiteboards with other multitasking apps available on the Atlassian Marketplace, so you can decide which would work best for your team.

Whiteboards vs. other multitasking apps on the Atlassian Marketplace
 

Last updated: 2022-11-22

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