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How story mapping complements agile development

Matthew Heusser | April 8, 2014
Story mapping offers a visualization of the steps, or stories, which make up a software development project. This conversation with several experts on the topic discusses how story mapping works, how maps are created and how stakeholders benefit from seeing the lay of the land.

On another cold day in February, I found myself in Dearborn, Mich., following my phone into the Adobe Hotel. It was time again for the Agile and Beyond conference. Here, in 2012, we gathered the first Council of Elders to discuss software delivery. Last year, we reassembled the council on the theme of schedule pressure. It has become a bit of a tradition.

After a keynote on tech safety, the council gathered at lunch to discuss story mapping, which allows a team to move from product vision to prioritized list of stories in minutes. The council this time includes the following:

  • Steve Rogalsky, a consultant with Protegra who flew in from Winnipeg, Man., to speak about changing the way you present your team;
  • Diane Zajak-Woodie, a business analyst from Erie, Penn.;
  • Holly Biewla, a conference organizer and expert in Scaled Agile Framework and lean methods;
  • Suzanne Dalton, an operations manager, creative director and Web developer, and
  • Jagdish Karira, a capability manager with HP.

After introductions and a quick bite, I turn on the audio recorder to talk about story mapping.

Karira smiles in the bottom-left corner. Clockwise from him are Dalton, Kirk, Rogalsky, Biewla, Zajac-Woodie and the author (taking notes).

What Story Mapping Can Do For You

Matthew Heusser, First of all, what is a story map - or, perhaps, more accurately, what problem does story mapping solve?

Rogalsky: It allows you to see the big picture in your backlog.

Karira:: It helps with release planning - getting the release roadmap, knowing when a story will be through the cycle and getting to the end user.

Rogalsky: It's also visual.

Biewla: This help you create, and see, what your minimal viable product will be.

Rogalsky: Let's look at an example:

You have this one idea in your head. You need to get it out. It wasn't important, but you knew you had to remember it. You get it on the map, put it on the bottom and get it out of your head. Now, you can have conversations about the things at the top while being reassured that the idea was captured. It's amazing. Once it's on the bottom, people don't care anymore.

Effective Story Mapping Doesn't Start With a Blank Slate So now that we've seen an outcome of the process, how do we build it, and how long does it take?

Rogalsky: It depends on how big your application. We had a small project, one or two person-months, that we story-mapped in 10 minutes. But somewhere you start with a blank piece of paper. Where do you start?

Zajak-Woodie: I usually build one map myself instead of everyone else at once. People don't like the blank sheet of paper. Then get people to rearrange or move things.


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