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Plutora Blog - Release Management, Software Development, Value Stream Management

User Story Mapping, Explained in Depth

Reading time 7 minutes

In many ways, creating software is like following a recipe to cook up a fancy dish. To end up with a mouthwatering meal, chefs need simple recipes that provide clear, high-level instructions. When a recipe is too dense and hard to follow, it’s easy to miss a step and wind up with a meal that’s not as tasty as it should be.  

In similar fashion, DevOps teams need to be able to visualize software and understand individual processes. While functional design documentation is important, it’s also necessary to see the forest for the trees.  

For this purpose, many DevOps teams are now relying on user story mapping strategies to better understand what it’s like for folks to use their software. Keep reading to learn how user story mapping works, the benefits that it offers, and some tools you can use to facilitate the process.  

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What Is User Story Mapping?

In short, user story mapping is a visualization strategy that agile software development teams use to understand and communicate user experience workflows. 

At its core, user story mapping involves outlining all the various interactions that a user will go through when using a piece of software. It is essentially a step-by-step guide detailing specific routes that users can take during a session.  

Teams usually create user story maps at the beginning of a project and update them when iterating, testing, and developing software. Since software is continuously improved, user story maps should be fluid documents that change over time. 

An Example of User Story Mapping

User story mapping may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty straightforward.  

To illustrate, an agile team might create a user story map when designing a new feature for a mobile banking app. In this case, you would start by defining an activity—or user function—like depositing a check. After defining a task, you outline the individual steps that an end-user would go through to complete the activity. For example, this might include logging in, accessing the account, entering the mobile deposit details, confirming a transaction, and so on. 

User story map example
User story map example

Given that apps can be highly complex and contain many different tasks, it’s common to have multiple story maps for a single piece of software. At the same time, you can also have a high-level story map with a general overview of what the user might do during a session.  

It’s important to have a system in place for organizing and sharing user story mapping so that teams can easily move through maps and compare them. 

Who Should Do User Story Mapping?

User story mapping is an internal cross-functional exercise. At the end of the day, the purpose of user story mapping is to align teams and help build a better product.  

Product managers should therefore invite all stakeholders to contribute to a user story map. This might include design, sales, marketing, customer support, IT, legal, finance, and even C-level executives. 

Generally, it’s best to collect feedback from multiple teams and departments but have one person or team own the map and make changes. Limiting ownership prevents different map versions and makes it easier to collect and manage feedback. After all, the last thing you want is three or four maps floating around with conflicting information. 

Keep in mind that different teams and departments can have opposing ideas, attitudes, and goals for applications. So, while it’s great to collect feedback, it’s also important to be somewhat discerning when incorporating changes and iterating.  

The Benefits of User Story Mapping

Chances are that user story mapping might be a big change for your team, requiring more planning and oversight than you are used to. If that’s the case, it might take some adjusting if you’re new to the idea. That said, this change could yield powerful results, all things considered.  

With that in mind, here are some of the top benefits of user story mapping. 

Prioritize Tasks 

User story mapping can help prioritize tasks and push lesser-value work to the back burner. This strategy can be especially helpful for small, understaffed teams that are juggling numerous projects and responsibilities. User story mapping can help triage work and ensure the most critical updates receive proper attention. 

Collect Feedback Early

By working on the most important items first, it becomes possible to collect critical feedback earlier in the development process. Feedback might come from customers—or it might come from internal tests. 

The earlier you collect feedback, the easier and more affordable it becomes to make valuable changes.  

Discover Vulnerabilities

Security vulnerabilities can lead to a variety of problems. They can drive up the cost of development and require extensive rework. And when you don’t catch them, they can provide easy backdoor entry into an application, exposing sensitive data and putting customers at risk. 

User story mapping allows you to discover potential vulnerabilities earlier, making it easier to address them before they cause massive problems. 

Request Resources 

Product managers need to keep a close eye on how projects grow and develop in order to keep them in check. A small project can look much different as time goes on—especially as more teams jump on board and start contributing. 

For example, what might start as a small product update or feature can turn into an idea for a new application or service once sales, marketing, and executive teams learn about it. 

Through careful user story mapping, managers can keep tabs on changing project requirements and request extra capital, human, and system resources to manage them.  

Improve Product Road Mapping 

Competing in today’s market requires looking ahead and planning for future growth and development. Great apps always have a clear road map with a steady stream of features and additions in the pipeline. 

The trick is to anticipate what users are looking for and roll out features that meet these needs on a regular basis. This way, you can keep your finger on the pulse of what people want—and prevent users from abandoning your apps for competitors offering better products. 

User story mapping simplifies the road mapping process by letting you view existing processes and understanding how future changes may fit into them. 

Popular User Story Mapping Tools to Explore

The days of using bulletin boards and sticky notes for user story mapping are long gone. Today, more and more teams are using digital story mapping tools to outline workflows and share insights. 

The following tools can help streamline user story mapping and drive optimal results. 

Jira 

Jira lets you build simple user story maps alongside agile boards and drag and drop them based on priority. 

Avion

Avion is another leading story mapping tool for agile product teams. This tool makes it easy to spot dependencies and plan releases.  

Plutora 

Plutora is a popular value stream management (VSM) SaaS platform. The platform helps capture critical feedback and integrate insights directly into releases.  

Why Use Plutora for User Story Mapping

Plutora is purpose-built for software release planning and scheduling, making it a top choice for agile teams. For example, you can use Plutora to outline project phases and quality gates. This, in turn, reduces schedule and quality risks. In addition, Plutora lets you define stakeholder roles and set up automated notifications and tasks. 

One of Plutora’s most impactful features is its release calendar. This tool keeps teams on the same page throughout all stages of development, ensuring everyone is aligned and working toward the same goals. Plutora makes it fast and easy to visualize user stories, assign roles, and monitor progress.  

Altogether, it’s a must-have tool if you’re serious about user story mapping. To experience Plutora in action, schedule a free demo today

Justin Reynolds

This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.