What is User Story Mapping?

Requirements always change as teams and customers learn more about the system along with the progress of the project. It's not exactly realistic to expect project teams to plan for a static requirements list and then deliver functional software months later. User Story Mapping is a better and more Agile way to address rigid changes of the end-user requirements.

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 business with through releases.

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 story map in collaborative meetings in identifying the desired results the end users want to achieve.

User story map

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Why User Story Mapping?

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 enable an agile team to groom their product backlog and plan the product releases more effectively.

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 through to ongoing development of new releases.

Here are few benefits of using 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 in the online for both remote and co-location environments collaboratively for keeping everyone in your team 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 modified information in the stickers
  • Easy to organize stickers for prioritization of stickers by dragging and dropping stickers around in the map
  • Manage user stories in the online for both remote and co-location environments collaboratively for keeping everyone in your team the same page.

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 an user activities and into 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

Receive User Requirement Identified From Different Sources

There are so many ways for us to identify user requirements. Different people may prefer different modeling techniques for capturing system requirements. In fact, we shouldn't think that there is a single dominate technique that can serve all purposes for different problems or projects. Sometimes, we may consider a use case diagram, but in another situation, work break down structure may be a better choice, or perhaps a mind map instead, it all depends.

To facilitate agile development, Story Map in Visual Paradigm can receive user features identified from different sources. As mentioned above, it could be the requirements derived from EA contracts, work packages from project management initiatives or ad-hoc analysis such as-is and to-be analysis, use cases in a use diagram to be integrated with agile software development and etc.

Extract requirements from model

Integrate with the Story Estimation Feature Seamlessly

The user story tool empowers team with Affinity Table for automating the story estimation process. Moreover, the visual Affinity Table supports real-time estimation with both story points and story hours at the same time. When you drag a story along the table, both the story point and hour will be shown simultaneously while the story is still moving around. Just drop the story in the grid where your team find the estimation is suitable.

Estimate user stories

The configurable user story map is seamlessly integrated with story map, and scrum and sprint process for providing one-stop-shop solution.

How the Automatic Affinity Table Calculate?

To understand how the story point and days are estimated automatically in the Affinity Table, we need to understand that the horizontal grids represent the work efforts, increases from the left to the right, and the complexity of the story development (such as new technology, new domain and etc.) increases from the top to the bottom.

As the maximum number of days for a user story to be developed should be no more than the length of the sprint (if not either the user story is to big that needed to be broken down, or the sprint is set too short which requires an extension), so the number of days of the bottom right grid should be also be equal to the length of the sprint. Based on this assumption, the story estimation can be calculated automatically.

Affinity estimation

Affinity of User Stories for Estimation

Estimation of a user story can never be 100 percent accurate and in fact no method can achieve this. To improve the accuracy of estimation, we start off by deciding the sprint length (say, two weeks, or 10 working days) and perform estimation on a few user stories that we feel most comfortable with in terms of estimation (say, 5 days and the certainty is medium). In this case, you will put the story in the middle vertically (certainty or risk level) and horizontally (work effort is equal to 5 day, or half of the sprint length, which is 10 days). You can then use it as a reference point in estimating the other user stories. Ask yourself whether this user story requires more effort than the referenced one, or less, and has more uncertainty or less). As you place some more user stories onto the Affinity Table you can compare among several user stories to determine whether the offsetting is logical or not, and then juggle them around to make them fair and that's it. The process is a little bit more an art than engineering. Do it and discuss in the team meeting rather than any confrontation. The accuracy will usually be improved as the team getting more mature.

Assessing user stories

Conducting Spike Investigation

According to Agile Dictionary the definition of Spike is:

"A task aimed at answering a question or gathering information, rather than at producing shippable product. Sometimes a user story is generated that cannot be well estimated until the development team does some actual work to resolve a technical question or a design problem. The solution is to create a "spike", which is some work whose purpose is to provide the answer or solution."

When estimating a user story we not only consider the development effort, but also take into considerations the risks and uncertainties involved. Quite often, a spike is created before the formal commencement of a sprint in managing the work required to be performed in order for some other user stories to be estimated fairly.

Spike investigation

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Want an agile tool that can manage your scrum projects well? Visual Paradigm features a user story mapping tool, Affinity Estimation tool, sprint management tool, and task management.

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