User Story Mapping in Agile: A Complete Guide

User Story Mapping in Agile: A Complete Guide

User Story mapping is an agile way of planning releases by helping arrange the user stories in a prioritized, clear and perceptible way. It is a top down approach that enhances the visibility and helps in discovering the feature or the product in much more depth thereby clarifying the big picture of the product. It is done mostly by product managers, development teams, design teams, operations, IT or legal teams.


With the help of this article, we will cover how user story mapping can be done, describe why it needs to be done along with how beneficial it can be and how it can go wrong. As a bonus, there’s also a user story mapping template and a quick preview of the digital tool for user story mapping.


Why do you need to do User Story Mapping?

A backlog is a central location for holding all of your epics, user stories, bug fixes and so on. Truly without it, managing the work can become a catastrophe. But at the same time, not having it properly organized can also lead to a disaster.


This is because with so many work items in the backlog, it can often become confusing on how the items should be arranged so that they can be related with each other. It becomes problematic when the user stories are broken down into tasks that are assigned and completed within a sprint


Therefore, structuring your product backlog to align its contents is a helpful solution for this problem. This can be done by an exercise known as user story mapping.


User Story Mapping: Benefits

According to the 14th Annual State of Agile Report, 37% of companies have incorporated story mapping as their common practice. Below you will find a list of factors that support how the user story mapping exercise is beneficial:

  • Makes a levelled structure of the backlog
  • Allows new ideas to take shape
  • Helps prioritizing in a collaborative manner
  • Allows better grooming of the backlog
  • Helps evaluate the steps that are most important to the user and which are not
  • Helps build a shared understanding of what needs to be done
  • Keeps the focus on value
  • Product is envisioned from a user’s point of view
  • Great for visualising risks and dependencies

User Story Mapping: Challenges

Undoubtably, user story mapping is an essential solution when it comes to the refinement of your product backlog. However, there are a number of challenges which, if not carefully tackled, can become a source of chaos in your planning process:


  • Problem Identification:

    One common challenge in User Story Mapping is that the problem is not clearly identified. This can happen when you don’t have a real expert to guide you on what is needed for the particular problem, or when you do not have the complete information for solving the problem.

  • Goal Identification

    Another common challenge in User Story Mapping is failing to grasp the goal you want to achieve from it.This can happen when there is missing alignment between the Product Management and the Development teams.

  • Constructive Collaboration

    At times, it can seem like a lot of redundant and boring work. User Story Mapping has to be a collaborative experience where everyone participating is able to freely share their opinion.

User Story Mapping: Preparation

Before starting this activity and to produce the best results, it is important to have the following factors in mind:


  • User Centricity

    An individual that has the right domain knowledge shall entirely be a part of the user story mapping process along with the development team. This can be a customer, end user, stakeholder or business owner. Their needs have to be kept first and at the center of all efforts that need to be done

  • Goal Setting

    Define a goal that you wish to achieve and shift all of your efforts towards accomplishing it.

  • Collaborative Environment

    It is important to have an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. Brainstorm as much as you can and try to get answers to all the whats, why’s and how’s

  • Broad Scope

    Aim to uncover all the possibilities in a wider spectrum

  • Decomposing Epics

    Break down epics into smaller chunks of functionality

  • Value Focussed

    Every user story shall be seen in a way that it helps fulfil the bigger picture of the product. This will allow you to maintain your focus on what really provides value to you and the end user

  • Scheduling

    Although user story mapping is a higher level of planning than your normal sprint planning, it can be done any time during the product’s development phase

  • Progress Quantification

    Use a success metric to determine how far you have come

User Story Mapping: Step-by-Step Guide

User Story Mapping can be done in a variety of ways which are more relatable for your organizational needs. A generally followed way of doing user story mapping is explained below:

  • Plot two axes where the horizontal axis has the user stories while the vertical axis is for the priority of the stories
  • Identify a big story or an epic
  • List down all the activities that can be a part of it or related to it
  • Arrange them in an order that is useful for the end user
  • With the major aspects identified, start breaking them down into sub tasks
  • Constantly review the user stories that have been broken down and check for anything that might have been missed.

Once all the stories have become visible, their priority needs to be defined in the presence of the end user, who will contribute towards determining what is needed first, allowing you to prioritize your user stories effectively. Eventually it will become a part of your MVP.

Following this practice can considerably lessen the extent of complexity in planning your releases. To help you with this exercise, get your free User Story Mapping template.

User Story Mapping: Tool

In large organizations where user story mapping is required to build flexible structures, or complex projects, the need for a scalable story mapping tool can not be ignored. With its superior visualization and smart data sets, Kendis provides an efficient way for accurately mapping your user stories with flexibility and ease.

Interested to explore how Kendis works out for your particular story mapping needs? Try it out for free!

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