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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.

Once the feature exists, the customers will give you feedback on how to steer. That's the business side. On the technical side, you have validated that your architecture is working; you have implemented the feature end to end.

Biewla: It's also a really awesome way to burn down risk end to end. If you're doing a story map and you get the user from the home page through the order process, you've burned down all the technical risk to get to production.

When you look at stories, your technical team asks, "What's the hardest stuff?" Those are the things we want to get done first, as simple as possible.

Rogalsky: You can do log-in so easily to test it. Just type in a name and allow it. You won't deploy it to production, but that gives you enough to begin testing the whole app, end to end.

I don't want to misrepresent. We build the first slice in the first iteration or two, but hardly does the customer approve that to go out. The potential is there.

Biewla: Right. That's usually a business decision; do we have enough?

Do Story Mapping Right, Your Projects Come With Less Risk

Kirk: I'm really more excited about tech safety. We've heard that mentioned before. How does this encourage safety?

Karira: All the things Biewla said. We test the market, validate the product and drive out the technical risks.

Rogalsky: Let's get another example of end-to-end implementation. We implemented insurance application for a group that only had one person (a single person who only had dental coverage). We could have deployed it! If we implement search, it is search with only the primary key of whatever we are searching.

Biewla: Some time people break stories into tasks. It's very hard to see when you're working on a task, what does this have to do with anything valuable? Sometimes developers will be completely disconnected from the story they provide. Some of the best times I've had, I've been looking at a story map and a story with a developer, and the developer says, "That's crap. What part of the story map are we even talking about right now?"

Rogalsky: I had a developer once tell me this was the first time he's seen the whole picture to actually know what he was working on.

Biewla: When I do this, the developers always talk about the technical risk and burning down that, while the business users want to get the core functionality out. It's a great way to get that negotiation to occur.

You can do different levels of story maps, too. You can break out the functionality and map that. I've used XMind to document a story map visually. You can show all the colors and make it much like a physical story board as possible. That allows you to change the story map over time when priorities change.


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