Agile Requirements

Creating and Using a User Story Map

Agile User Story Map

A user story map, conceived by Jeff Patton, allows us to create a high level backlog of a potential product, or it may serve in organizing ordered backlogs. The idea originated from customer journey maps used in interaction design methods. A user story map connects software functionality to customer journeys and business workflows, showing how individual stories contribute to the bigger picture and providing a great visual representation of release plans.

A user story map is a grid where the horizontal axis represents sequence in high level user activity, and the vertical axis represents the releases or major milestones. User stories are clustered in the grid based on the user story or function that they represent. On the story map user stories are arranged perpendicularly based on their delivery priority, optionally identifying the release that they are planned for.

The user story map is an excellent tool to create transparency on the product features and anticipated releases aiding business or customer collaboration about serious needs, potential solutions and Minimum Viable Product delivery all at the same time. Vertical arrangement allows teams to examine various release proposals and explore various options before committing to solutions.


User stories are terrific artefact investments as they help your teams consider the voice of the customer in the creation of software. User story maps take this even further by putting the stories into the perspective of the greater user experience. User story maps aids a common understanding in teams about the rationale behind what they are building, and what the greater purpose is.

Mapping out the journey from the user’s perspective helps teams evaluate user stories in a wider context, identify unnecessary or missing steps, and create new product ideas. Mapping out user stories in a matrix grid also channels thinking away from linear thinking, supporting ranked backlogs.

Thus, story maps assists product owners and managers with prioritization, story slicing (sashimi) and provides focus for release planning. It is also very easy to cluster functionality into various releases through a simple glance of the story map, and marking potential release items. Through mapping out the various user journeys and then considering stories within context of various actions, teams start seeing the user stories as possibilities instead of harder commitments.

By grouping related stories together on the user story map, stakeholders often see that they can enable certain functionality with a far simpler selection of stories (deliverables). This allows stakeholders to commit to more complex stories much later in the process, by which time they may no longer be required as the simpler option solved a problem.

Bringing it all together

Create story maps for key user activities and place these on the very top of the skeleton, in a horizontal sequence. For example, booking a flight is a great experiment to get familiar with story mapping. Browsing cheap flights, and flight reviews are stories that will be slotted into a top level heading, they are too small to have their own maps.

The initial step would be to identify the skeleton of the story map, the horizontal top axis. Break the activities down into high level steps. Steps should be divorced from technology or solutions. For example, identifying and selecting a cheap flight is an activity within booking a flight, and does not imply a solution. Reading reviews about a flight is not a key step, rather it is a way to obtain more information on what flight I want to book. Therefore, booking a flight would be the high level function that is placed in the skeleton of the story map. Browsing cheap flights and reading reviews about flights will both be great candidates for slotting in below the high level story that is booking a flight.

Once you have the backbone in place proceed to brainstorming various options to slot in under the main story. Once this is done, move stories around in a vertical fashion to plan releases. The focus must be on what can be achieved in the shortest amount of time in order to have a shippable release as soon possible. This would lead to conversations about what is really valuable to us now, and what solutions can be simplified or be left for later releases.

The best places to create such story maps are large open walls or windows, using physical story cards and sticky notes. The story (index) cards would be the high level feature or activity, and the sticky notes would be the stories that roll up into the higher level activity.

The physical nature of these stories on a wall allows us to re-prioritize as we converse over the output that is the story map.

What’s Next?

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