What is user story mapping? (Plus 3 story map examples)

What is user story mapping? (Plus 3 story map examples)
Steve Tsentserensky
Mar 22, 20227 min read

How is it that some websites or apps just seem to work flawlessly? Every step, every interaction, every button, intuitively crafted, right where they need to be. While it’s not the only thing that matters, story mapping plays a big part in getting those details right. Contrast that with the clunky user experience and downright confusing interfaces you routinely come across and it makes you wonder why all companies aren’t committed mappers.

What is story mapping? Our definition

Mapping user stories is the process of visualizing your customer’s journey with your product or service. Bringing all of those individual elements together, start to finish, from the user perspective, gives you a holistic, understandable and functional view of the entire journey.

That said, don’t be fooled into thinking this is interchangeable with user journey mapping. There’s more than meets the eye and knowing the ins and outs of it, beyond just the story mapping definition, is what unlocks the power of this process.

What is story mapping in agile companies?

First of all, what does "agile" even mean? What makes a company agile and what’s agile mapping?

Agile methodology is all about iteration. It’s an approach to project management and software development (and product development to a lesser degree) that breaks a project down into smaller phases, putting considerable emphasis on cross-team collaboration and releasing successively better and more workable versions to customers. Solutions come from the continuous and incremental improvements that evolve from those iterations.

Agile workflow example

Traditional software development, alternatively referred to as "waterfall", is more top-down and sequential; one phase has to be completed before the next can be started. Agile software development is functionally opposite and all phases can be in process at once. A reactive approach that keeps you nimble.

Waterfall workflow example

Agile story mapping dovetails with that idea by breaking the user story down into single activities, or plot points, that help product managers and the development team get a 360-degree view of the product.

What is a story map in scrum?

Agile often goes hand-in-hand with scrum. If agile is the overarching framework for a project, scrum is the way in which the work is achieved and defines the sprints each team works on.

The name comes from how they restart play in a rugby game and it’s similar to how work gets done. Each day would start with a scrum, or group meeting, to discuss what’s ahead and how to achieve success. In that sense, you wouldn’t have scrum story mapping but rather a story map scrum.

Agile workboard

An agile process coupled with a scrum workflow allows you to break the big picture down into manageable parts in order to narrow focus while still brainstorming answers that align with the whole.

When to use user story mapping

Honestly, it’s something that should be used regularly so the use cases are endless. User story mapping is one of those tools that yields deep insights about your product better than just about anything because the whole idea is to come together as a team and pick apart each of the user activities involved. In the same way that many hands make light work, more minds allow for a deeper dive.

It bears repeating; this is done with a focus on the end-user experience.

Whether you’re a startup with a new product locking in your MVP or looking to upgrade existing products, going from 1.0 to 2.0, getting in the weeds on every step generates the exact sort of discussions that lead to improvement.

What are the benefits of story mapping?

Because it’s a user-centric exercise, the biggest benefit of story mapping is that you’ll eventually end up with a markedly improved product after implementing what you discover along the way. Something that really aligns with consumer needs, meets the expectations of your target user persona – and keeps stakeholders stoked.

  • Gives a bird’s eye of view of the entire product or process
  • Helps you understand the user journey more thoroughly
  • Leads to improving that user journey
  • Defines exactly what your minimum viable product (MVP) is
  • Makes product discovery easier
  • Allows you to prioritize better
  • Helps manage feature and product backlog
  • Improves the product roadmap
  • Puts a spotlight on gaps in the journey
  • Identifies product features that are missing or need refinement
  • Pinpoints inefficiencies
  • Forces you to keep the focus on what’s right for the user rather than falling into arguments and battles on potentially irrelevant features
  • Encourages teamwork
  • Iteration inspires innovation because team members go in with a mindset of continuous improvement – not just finishing
  • Creates a shared understanding of the end goal and the individual elements that are necessary to make it shine
  • Improves organization

Here’s how to create a story map online with Slickplan

Back in the day, creating a story map, a product feature map, an agile process map, etc. would require a huge whiteboard or a big ‘ol empty wall, markers, sticky notes and the like to get the job done. Nowadays, software does the trick and collaborative tools like Slickplan streamline the process ensuring the days of smudging the whiteboard are behind you (bonus: we even have a story mapping template to help you get started).

In general, story maps go 3 levels deep and are arranged from the most general to the most specific details. The whole story runs horizontally on the x-axis while the details cascade down along the y-axis. If you’re picturing a kanban board, you’re on the right track.

Here we’ll look at how to story map with an agile user story mapping tutorial.

Build the main narrative of user activities

These are the big-ticket, high-level items. The most general elements that form the backbone, or basic story, a user will go through is where story mapping starts.

For example, if you’re creating a story map for online bill pay for a credit card, your main user activities might be; log in to your account, open credit card, pay bill.

Add user tasks

On the next level down, you’ll list all the user tasks required to complete the main activity you slotted in above. You’ll sometimes find these referred to as "epics".

Keeping with the previous example, the epics/user tasks may include; log in, access accounts, select credit card, pay card tab, enter amount, submit payment, confirm payment.

Fill in the details

Here we move to the most granular level and list what’s required to complete each of the user tasks above. These elements are the actual user story.

Worth noting that this is also where the iterative style of agile development is most clear because you can separate this section even further into a release schedule as development moves along. Release 1 then would be your minimum viable product.

Let’s break down a couple of the items in our example down further into user story elements.

  • Log in: enter username, enter password, press sign in
    • Release 2: add fingerprint login
  • Access accounts: select personal or business account
  • Select credit card: see current balance, see payment due date, view recent and pending transactions

And so on. Of course, this is an incredibly simplified example, when creating this for your own products, you’ll want to really elaborate on the details.

Underneath all of this, it’s wise to include a backlog of features you’ll be adding for the next product release in order of their priority.

User story map examples

At this point you should have a fairly clear idea of what these things look like and can do but more knowledge never hurts. Here are a few user story mapping examples that will help drive the concept home.

Basic user story diagram

To get a sense of the hierarchy and structure of these maps and how each layer informs the next, it’s helpful to look at a barebones version of a user story mapping example.

Basic user story diagram

Start mapping stories with Slickplan today

No matter the type of user that comes to your site, downloads your app or uses your product, creating the best experience possible is always the aim. As you can see from our sample story map, mapping stories is one of the key ways to chart the best path forward and agile story mapping tools are the place to start.

The beauty of user story map software like ours is that your canvas is endless – no idea is too big. Forget the wall of Post-Its. Oh, and being able to access your story from anywhere means distance is no issue, collaborate with remote teams without skipping a beat.

Get started today with our story mapping template.

Steve Tsentserensky is a freelance copywriter, video producer and photographer with a knack for making the complex consumable. A passion for travel has led him to the digital nomad lifestyle and an ever-changing office from which he creates content for companies large and small through his production company, SBT Productions. Find him on LinkedIn.