What is story mapping and how to do it remotely?

Piotr Janecki & Anna Sternicka
02 June 2020

A significant concern for every Project Manager and Product Owner is the project scope. Too broad, and it becomes general. Too detailed, and it's a waste of time. There is no right or wrong answer as to how granular the scope should be. With a smart approach, you can keep this crucial phase of product development under control.

Defining a project scope for story mapping

The golden rules of project scoping are a popular subject in any project management methodologies. We won't cover them here. Instead, we have useful bits of advice on how to define a project scope based on shared understanding.

Keep it simple

Start simple. Don't organize one big meeting to capture all the requirements. Schedule the meetings to have enough time to understand and assimilate knowledge. In most cases, clients won't be able to give you much information during the initial meeting. Give them some time to prepare.

Break the product down into sub-projects, modules, parts, or whatever suits your internal vocabulary. There are two popular approaches in scoping: "screen-by-screen" or "a feature list." Both are equally bad and simply don't work: discover the fantastic world of story mapping and customer journey!

Whatever is well conceived is clearly said

Ask questions and paraphrase the client's needs during the meetings. Use metaphors, references, and stories to understand what's important. People understand the same requirements differently. To practice common understanding, ask your colleagues to write a sum-up after each call to summarize what the client needs and not what he or she said. To get unbiased answers, don't use your primary communication channel and gather responses anonymously.

Clarify priorities

Ask for what not to develop. That will help prioritize the project areas. Most people want too much, way too much that is needed or required. If you have problematic people requesting everything and anything, ask them to set priorities. It’s down to the Project Manager to manage expectations realistically, so this will help.

Foster communication

Communication with stakeholders is crucial due to the constant feedback loop. Create a channel and book some time just for this matter. You need to have access to the decision-makers, but don't flood them with hundreds of questions. Try to focus on one feature at a time.

Understanding story mapping

What is story mapping?

People understand the requirements in different ways, and a project scope is nothing more than a list of requirements. How to define the project scope to make sure that everyone is on the same page? That's where story mapping comes in!

Story mapping is nothing more than presenting the project scope and making sure that everyone understands it in the same way. But how to achieve that? By changing wrote-down documentation into storytelling. 

An example of story mapping

If you’re new to it, the process generally looks as follows:

1. Gather all significant stakeholders in one place.
2. Define with them goals, success metrics, pains & gains, and personas.
3. Go through the longest user flow in your product (the violet cards in the screenshot above).
4. On each step of the flow, list all user actions (the yellow cards in columns).
5. Prioritize, group features in modules (small dotted vertical dividers).
6. Decide where your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ends.

And you're done! The basic idea is closely related to the scrum methodology: you have to write down all possible user actions in an understandable way. "User wants to fill in the order form with address": that's a simple example of a user story. You can later pass it to your agile development team in the software of choice. 

You can add an extra layer of details (often, as Acceptance Criteria): these are the small green cards in the picture above. You can identify potential risks or highlight something; that’s the orange cards. When you are done, draw a horizontal line on your map. Whatever is above will become your backlog for MVP. All that’s below will be implemented as features in future releases. Easy! 

Is it a challenge to create a user story mapping remotely?

Before starting an online user story mapping, you should plan an agenda for each meeting and share it with all participants. It's best to highlight the essential items a few days before the meeting and ask people to prepare answers for questions like:

  • What are the business goals of this product?

  • What metrics are we going to measure?

  • Who is going to use our product? 

Sharing these questions will help them to know what to expect during the workshops. 

Pros and cons of remote story mapping

Pros:

  • Better documentation: Multiple people work simultaneously. You create a lot of data that can be used later on.

  • Remote participants: Busy people can participate. That gives you access to specialists that wouldn't have come.

  • Time management: It's possible to plan many workshops as participants don't have to come in person and waste time on commuting.

  • Sharing knowledge: You can send a link to the board you work on to your colleagues.

  • Asynchronous work: Each participant can give input between the meetings.


Cons:

  • A limited number of participants: It’s impossible to manage big groups online.

  • Support in mapping: You will need somebody to help write down stories and manage them.

  • Timing: It's more time consuming to listen to each participant separately.

  • Tools: Your stakeholders may not be computer literate. You will have to teach them how to use tools.
     

How long does remote story mapping take?

The length depends on the complexity of the product. For a web application with a single big feature, one or two days are enough. Sophisticated financial platforms may take weeks, plus extra time for research and analysis.

If you don't have a lot of time, you can hire a  company to run those workshops for you. You will end up with robust deliverables, an organized map, and a collection of features.  Plus, you will learn how to do it on your own. Click here for more tips and tricks on remote workshops.

The best tool for online story mapping

It is crucial to prepare for a remote story mapping. You need to draft the agenda, send the invitations, choose the right tools, and check that everyone has access to them.

  • A tool for video calls. For smaller workshops, any video-conferencing tool will do.  If there are more than five participants, pick a tool that allows you to divide the audience into smaller groups. Here, we use Zoom. It gives us multiple rooms inside one video call.

  • A virtual board and sticky notes. Miro is a tool that you can use to create a story map, but it is also great for remote workshops. It's a straightforward and intuitive tool with predefined, customizable templates. You can also create your board from scratch.

  • A rehearsal meeting. A day or two before the workshops, we invite all participants for a 30-minute meeting. We check that everyone can join Zoom and Miro and give people a simple task to discover the app. When the workshop starts, everyone is familiar with the tools.

Whether you’d like to develop a product or need more info about story mapping, we can help!

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