How to Manage User Stories with Story Map?

To organize a large collection of user stories (or PBIs) in a product backlog is a tough thing to do. As time goes by, and the product grows, what was once a simple list of prioritized items gets unmanageable. Working from a huge list makes it very difficult to navigate and very easy to get “lost” in it. You lose track of what’s going on, what should come next and what’s a low priority.

Story Maps were first introduced by Jeff Patton in 2005. The main idea behind Story Maps is that single-list product backlogs are a terrible way to organize and prioritize the work that needs to be done. A richer structure is necessary. A user story map is a powerful tool that enables an agile team to groom their product backlog and plan the product releases more effectively. Story mapping is a great approach for organizing user stories of our product in a holistic view.

What is User Story Mapping?

A user story map helps you arrange user stories into a useful model for understanding the functionality of a system, identifying holes and omissions in your backlog, and effectively plan holistic releases that deliver value to users and businesses through releases.

A user story map captures the journey a customer takes with the product including activities and tasks they perform with the system. Creating a story map collaboratively ensures team members are on the same page from the start of the project throughout the ongoing development of new releases.

Here are a few benefits of using a story map as a user story tool:

  • Manage backlog with an overview and leveled structure
  • Brainstorm, discuss and prioritize user needs in a collaborative approach
  • Manage activities and tasks (walking skeleton), and divide them into epics or user stories systematically
  • Arrangement and prioritization of user activities and user tasks, or drill down to refine them into related epics or user stories
  • Manage user stories online for both remote and co-location environments collaboratively for keeping everyone in your team on the same page.

Why You Need a User Story Mapping Tool like Visual Paradigm?

Listed below are some of the reasons why you need a user story mapping tool like Visual Paradigm in story mapping.

  • Never run out of space on your whiteboard,
  • Easy to organize, update and modify information in the stickers
  • Easy to organize stickers for prioritization of stickers by dragging and dropping stickers around in the map
  • Manage user stories online for both remote and co-location environments collaboratively for keeping everyone in your team on the same page.

Structure of a Story Map

Story mapping consists of ordering user stories along two independent dimensions. The “map” arranges user activities along the horizontal axis in rough order of priority (or “the order in which you would describe activities to explain the behavior of the system”). Down the vertical axis represents increasing sophistication of the implementation.

Given a story map so arranged, the first horizontal row represents a “walking skeleton“, a barebones but usable version of the product. Working through successive rows fleshes out the product with additional functionality.

Flexible Structure Complex or Simple Projects

Visual Paradigm’s Story map supports a 3 or 4-level hierarchical structure for requirements gathering which is suitable for either complex, medium or simple projects. Story map starts from a collection of user features received from different sources (i.e. use case, BPMN, WBS or even mind maps) into the backlog of the story map, and these user features will be realized as user activities and into a related walking skeleton (user tasks). And these tasks can be breakdown further into epics, and then user stories for software development.

3-level Story Map for Medium Size Project

The 3-level story map involves three compartments: Activities > Tasks > Stories (Default)

3 levels user story map

4-level Story Map for More Complex Project

The 4-level story map adds Epics into the 3-level map: Activities > Tasks > Epics > Stories (Configurable to)

4 levels user story map

Theme vs epic vs user story vs Task

Products are typically described by hundreds of requirements which are organized in the product backlog. Theme or epics cannot be completed in one sprint so they are broken into more user stories and subsequently a group of related tasks. Epics are then delivered in releases. But even small user stories from different epics can have something in common. Such a group of user stories is called theme.

The Granularity of Product Backlog Items

Have you ever been confused by the use of terms like Theme (or feature) or epics in Agile Development? New-comers may not know what differences are and even lead to mistakes.

Scrum doesn’t have “stories”, “epics”, etc. Scrum has Product Backlog Items (PBIs), which are often prioritized, split and refined into epics, user stories, technical tasks, spikes and bugs in a just-in-time manner in the backlog grooming process.

Theme/User Feature

A theme provides a convenient way to indicate that a set of related epics have something in common, such as being in the same functional area. By assigning a financial value to Themes, managers can ensure the highest value is being delivered and that the project/program is aligned with its objectives and the strategic direction of the organization.


An Epic is useful as placeholders for large requirements. It probably won’t fit into a sprint and should be broken down into stories.  Epics are usually defined during the initial product roadmap and decomposed into stories in the product backlog as more is learned and is usually written in a User Story format. The decomposed stories in an epic have a common objective and a specific outcome or high-level user need or part of the journey or process someone takes in using the service.

User Stories

User stories are the smallest units of user functionality in agile which can be delivered in one agile sprint.  They are typically estimated using story points and defined using INVEST criteria. User stories should deliver a vertical slice of functionality to the customer that is valuable and complete by the end of an iteration. A user story must deliver particular value to the user and must be describable in simple language that outlines the desired outcome.


Tasks are decomposed parts of a story that get into HOW the story will be completed. Tasks can be hour estimated if desired. Tasks are usually defined by the people doing the work (developers, QA, etc), whereas stories and epics are generally created by the customer or the product owner on behalf of the customer. Thus, the tasks no longer need to be understandable by business users and so can be highly technical. The process of breaking a story down into tasks also helps the development team better understand what needs to be done.

Product Backlog Structure

Organize your Product Backlog with Story Map

User Story Map is becoming a popular user story management technique through the efforts of Jeff Patton and others. The user story tool allows you to establish multiple levels and dimensions for a product backlog through the breakdown of user needs as user activities, user tasks, epics, and user stories. Typically, an agile development team makes use of a story map in collaborative meetings in identifying the desired results the end-users want to achieve.

About Visual Paradigm
Visual Paradigm helps organizations stay competitive and responsive to change faster and better in today’s fast-changing environment. Our award-winning products are trusted by over 320,000 users in companies ranging from small businesses, consultants, to blue-chip organizations, universities, and government units across the globe. It enables organizations to improve business and IT agility and foster innovation through popular open standards and process frameworks. Visual Paradigm, a killer Agile feature in 2018, introduced Scrum Process Canvas for automating the way a Scrum team to create, manage and deploy software application that empowers the team to continuously improve their performance at unprecedented speed and scale.

Manage the Entire Scrum Process in One Page

  • Automate the Scrum Framework in a fun and enjoyable dashboard with eye-catching updated status.
  • Manage Backlog, Multiple Sprints of different Scrum Roles with a single-page visually executable canvas
  • Allow instant access, review and generate scrum artifacts and related documents to be archived in the Shared Cabinet
  • Automate the Scrum events and related activities with self-explanatory instructions, samples, and required document templates.

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