User Story Mapping and Why It’s Crucial to Our Process

Have you read User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton? If not, you should stop what you’re doing and read it right now!

At Ncontracts, we’re more than a little bit jazzed about the process and how it has changed the way we make software.

Changing The Focus

Many product people are familiar with the lean startup concept of the Build, Measure, Learn feedback loop. Like so many organizations, over the years we had fallen into the habit of just leveraging our internal subject matter experts and our process was looking more like ‘Build, Build, Build’.

After some heartburn around launching a feature and finding out we had built the wrong thing, we knew that it was time to change. Instead of focusing on how many features we could push out in a sprint / quarter / year, we decided as a team to focus on how much value we could deliver. This is not a small change in the least.

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Do all your walls (conference room, hallway, etc) look like this?

Measuring Value? How Do You Do That?

User Story Mapping ended up being the methodology that helped us have a shared understanding around what the end-to-end journey is that a user takes for a specific task, and then we can break down which pieces of the journey are done in software versus what is done outside our product ecosystem. Each step ends up being a sticky note. Yes it is old school, but there’s something magical about doing things in a tactile way. We use a live surrogate (or Mural) for including remote team members, but most of the time we’ve found it is better to just fly them in for the 1-2 day session.

A key part of User Story Mapping is involving someone from Product, Design, and Engineering, so that everyone has an understanding of what the tasks are and gets an idea of how they should be accomplished without focusing too hard on the actual solution just yet. Focusing on the outcomes first lets us be more creative later to find the best solution.

After mapping things out as a group, we can also move the sticky notes up and down depending on how crucial / valuable they are to accomplishing the outcome, and that drives what’s built in the MVP, v1, v2, etc of the product and is the initial cut of the feature roadmap.

How’s It Working?

In short: awesome! We don’t start any projects without it now! The efficiency of correct scope, the clarity around design and engineering needs, and the shared understanding between all parties involved really has made the “extra” effort of User Story Mapping a time-saving endeavor.