What is a user story?
A user story is a short, simple description of a product feature from the perspective of the person who wants to use the new feature, usually a user or customer of the product. User stories might sound something like this: “As an email user, I want to be able to search my email by keyword so that I can quickly find the information I’m looking for.”
Product managers rely on user story mapping—visualizing user stories and showing how they can be accomplished within a sprint—as a compass of sorts to keep everyone on the right track through development. Production members leverage user story mapping to understand what the customer wants from the product—how they wish to interact with or use it.
The customer-focused approach of user story mapping leads to more satisfied customers because the development team considers their needs from the beginning.
How is user story mapping helpful?
User story mapping offers the following benefits to help teams build a product or service that users will enjoy.
Because user story mapping gives teams a holistic view of the user experience, team members can easily determine essential tasks and organize work into sprints or releases.
Puts an emphasis on user value
By building the story from the user’s perspective, the development team identifies how users interact with the product and what requirements need to be met to facilitate those interactions.
User story mapping illuminates any issues, risks, or problems by providing a high-level view of the product. It saves time by helping teams working through anticipated problems before they arise.
Ensures team unity
True to its name, user story mapping creates a map that the team agrees on and follows throughout the build. The team can refer back to the map anytime they are unsure of where to go next.
Allows for constant improvement
A well-defined user story map groups stories by priority, which, in turn, can be batched out in iterations to gather feedback earlier in the process and make improvements as the project moves forward.
How to create a user story map?
1. Understand your users
Who do you see as the primary audience or audiences for your product? While there may be several different types of users, identifying the primary audiences will keep development on the right track to deliver a successful product. Focus groups and A/B tests can give insight into what your users do when interacting with your product. When planning a new project, look at past results along with industry research to make sure you’re putting the user first.
2. Identify the problem
What problem is your service or product helping the customer overcome? Keep a user-first mindset during this step to visualize how the end user will experience the product. If you’re stuck, remember this format: “As a user, I want to [the action], so that [the benefit] happens.”
3. Map user activities
Interaction with your product will come in the form of user activities. These activities act as anchor points as you create your user story map. They should be fairly broad, as more specific user stories will make up the actions behind each activity.
4. Map user stories under user activities
Under each activity, a series of user stories create the larger customer journey. In the example of the video streaming website, under the user activity of choosing a video, a user story might include searching for a video and then filtering or editing the search results to clarify.
After you identify and map out user activities and their corresponding stories, the production team can start prioritizing user stories. Rank stories vertically from most important to least important to help the production team understand which stories have the most impact in the customer journey.
6. Identify roadblocks
As the user story map takes shape, the team may begin to spot areas of missing information, bottlenecks, or other issues that might slow down production. Use this step to identify solutions and workarounds.
7. Plan the sprint
All the mapping work comes to fruition in the project planning phase . After user activities and stories are prioritized, they can be batched out into sprints, where each piece of the user story map is assigned to a member of the production team with clear explanation of how it should be completed.
What happens after user story mapping?
Once the user story mapping exercise is complete, relevant stakeholders will usually review the mapped activities and stories. Remember that nothing is set in stone—you can and should make changes where needed. After all involved parties have agreed on a final user story map, the production team can begin development.
User story mapping is a useful practice to visualize what work needs to be executed on first to create the most effective end product. The end user is the focus throughout the entire process, with an emphasis on multiple iterations and incorporating feedback. An effective user story map is fluid and can be updated as the project needs change or new stakeholders are introduced.