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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.

Rogalsky: With or without a requirements document, I like to do this at the start of the project to get to know the customers and their needs. We had one large project that took about three hours to perform the initial map, then a few hours of improvement.

Zajak-Woodie: That matches my experience, too: A half-day initial session, then a revision three weeks later.

Rogalsky: What's really neat is that, by looking visually, your customers can tell you if they see holes.

Biewla: You're talking about seeing holes. One mistake I see people doing is going right to a story map without having doing an actual business model canvas or gathered data on who the customers are and what they need.

Dalton: So do you bring users in the process?

Biewla and Rogalsky: Yes.

Biewla: You may have to go out and find them.

Rogalsky: We had a company in Winnipeg named UnionWare. They created a story map and showed it to the users at a user convention. The users tore it up and created a new one. That prevented building a product that wouldn't meet the users' need. Give someone a document and have them do that.

Like Cartography, Story Mapping Comes in Many Forms How do you create the actual map?

Rogalsky: There are many ways to create a story map. In the end, you have a story map. You can do it from a requirements document, you can do it silently, you can do it in Excel, you can use CardBoardIt.

Biewla: I recommend that you know two things before story mapping: the goal, usually to make or save money, as well as the user goals.

Rogalsky: The columns are user activities, user tasks and user stories. Start with user activities, what the users can do. From there, we develop tasks in blue, the tasks the users can accomplish with our software. After that, we develop the yellow stories, which technical team will develop further and actually implement.

The parts of a story map include user activities (orange), user tasks (blue) and user stories (yellow). Source: How to create a user story map by Steve Rogalsky.

We have a lot of stories around our board.

Dalton: How long is the planning horizon for the first slice?

Rogalsky: Jeff Patton, who taught me this, says that you should be able to build the entire release one row in one or two iterations. For email, you want to get something out that's ugly and working. For email, if you can get a web page with a From field, a To field, a Subject field, a Text field and a Submit button, wham, you have an email feature.


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