What Is Story Mapping? (With Benefits and Instructions)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Story mapping is a good way to understand whether products are useful and user-friendly. Story maps are visual tools that show how an average consumer may interact with a product. Insights from story mapping can help you develop and refine products to serve customers better. In this article, we explain what story mapping is, describe what its key benefits are and discuss the steps for creating and using your own story map.

What is story mapping?

Story mapping, sometimes called user story mapping, is visually representing a typical customer journey. Product managers and their development teams typically use story mapping during product discovery. The story map they create shows the way a customer is likely to interact with a product and its features.

Related: How To Become a Product Manager (Full Guide With Steps)

Benefits of story mapping

Here are the key benefits of story mapping for product development teams and the businesses they're a part of:

Prioritises customers

Story mapping focuses on the activities and needs of customers. The process helps development teams see the product from the perspective of an end-user. This point-of-view helps developers create products and product features that are useful and user-friendly for consumers. This improves customer satisfaction and improves the business's chance of generating repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.

Organises workflow

Story mapping can help developers organise their workflow by highlighting components and vital fixes. For example, a story map may show the components a product needs before customers can test it and share their feedback. The development team prioritises the development of those components so the project can progress to the testing stage. Development teams may also use a story map to plan different releases over time.

Reveals major challenges

As story mapping takes developers through the customer journey, it can reveal challenges they may face along this journey. Gaps in the user journey indicate challenges for developers to overcome. The story map can also highlight other technical challenges, such as product elements that depend on each other. Once developers learn of challenges, they can take steps to address them to enhance the user experience. It's more efficient and affordable for businesses to address these challenges before creating products than to make changes after testing or a product's release.

Encourages continuous feedback

A business can use the story map as research for a minimum viable product (MVP). Users can test and critique the MVP during the product's development and build. Early customer feedback helps developers quickly learn which product features are the most valuable. The feedback developers receive from MVP testers can help them refine their design and ensure the best possible product goes to market.

Builds a shared team perspective

The story mapping process encourages teams to work together to create a shared vision of the customer experience and how they can improve it. During the process, team members discuss what features to build, when and why. Through these conversations and the shared story map, developers create a shared understanding of the project and its goals. This helps them operate more efficiently and harmoniously together.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples

How to create and use a story map

Creating and using a story map is usually a collaborative process, so it's a good idea to create a large story map that all team members can see. Many teams like creating their story maps on whiteboards or using sticky notes they can easily move around. Here are the common steps development teams follow when creating and using story maps:

1. Develop user personas

User personas are fictional characters that represent a business's typical customers. Development teams can develop user personas using information from market research surveys, focus groups and interviews with existing customers. This research helps build images of different types of customers. The most useful personas are well detailed, with information about each persona's age, family, job, motivations and goals. The more detailed the personas are, the more helpful they can be for story mapping. Creating several different personas representing different customers can help development teams understand the user experience from various points of view.

2. Set product objectives

The product objectives are a user's aims in using the product. Establishing the product's objectives gives the story you are mapping clear destinations. The development team can also refer back to the user's aims when considering new product features. The most useful features are ones that help a user achieve their objectives.

Related: Understanding Objectives vs. Goals (Including Examples)

3. Map user activities

Once you understand your user's destinations, you can create a story explaining how they get there. The story is a list of activities a user takes from the moment they begin interacting with the product until they achieve their goals. Each activity gets represented separately along the top of the map. If you have several product objectives, you may make several story maps or a more complex combined map. Viewing the steps can help developers understand the product's key components. Some of the activities for an online retailer's app may include:

  • browsing items

  • filtering items by category

  • putting items in a shopping cart

  • completing a purchase

Users may vary their journey from the one that developers mapped. They may take the steps in a different order or skip some steps. Mapping the greatest number of steps users may take helps developers understand all the potential options.

4. Map stories under activities

Developers can then break the activities down into smaller user stories. These are the smaller actions people may do while completing each user activity. They help developers gain a deeper understanding of their customers' behaviour. Developers usually list stories in a vertical column underneath the associated activity. Examples of some stories under browsing items may include:

  • searching for an item using the search bar

  • browsing by category

  • reading product descriptions and reviews

  • finding similar products to plan a whole outfit

  • viewing size charts to determine fit

During brainstorming sessions, developers may think of unrelated stories. They may go back to their story map and add new activities that suit these stories. They can continue adding as many activities and stories to the map as they think of.

5. Identify customer challenges

After story mapping, developers can analyse their map and look for any challenges a user may face. Considering how each different persona may use the product and progress from one activity to the next is a good approach. If there are any barriers to movement or achieving the objective, the product development team may brainstorm solutions to improve the user experience. They may add new stories or activities to the story map to help the user move through the process, for example. Finding workable solutions immediately can increase the product's chance of success.

For example, the development team of the shopping app may view the user experience from the perspective of a university student on a tight budget. They put items in the shopping cart and stop the process before completing the purchase after seeing the total. The developers realise they need a delete item function so the student can remove some selected clothes and stick to their budget. They modify the user activity to read interacting with the shopping cart and list separate stories under it: adding items to the cart and deleting items from the cart.

6. Prioritise work

Developers assess the story map and determine the most important stories for creating an MVP. Prioritising stories can help them get a testable product to consumers more quickly. Developers might refer to the user personas and determine how important each story is to achieving their goals. Ordering stories according to their priority, with the most important stories near the top of each column, helps team members easily see the priorities.

For example, the developers may decide viewing size charts is essential for shoppers, so they prioritise creating and adding these to their app. They could decide to create the functionality for finding similar products later. They expect shoppers may like this feature but believe they can make purchases before it appears on the app.

7. Identify technical challenges

Before commencing development, the team can also use the story map to identify any challenges they may face. For example, story maps can highlight tasks that depend on one another, important technical architecture or gaps in information about the product. Understanding these potential challenges early gives the development team the opportunity to problem-solve long before the deadline. They may develop solutions to address each challenge or minimise its impact.

Related: How to Overcome Challenges at Work (A Guide And Examples)

8. Plan sprints and releases

With a clear understanding of priorities and challenges, the development team can plan their sprints and releases. The story map can help them develop a schedule with clear deadlines for delivery. The story map acts as a visual companion to the formal schedule, as developers know working from the top of the map down to the bottom helps them deliver the greatest amount of value in the shortest amount of time. As the project progresses, the developers understand their continued work enhances the product for users.

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