9 February 2012

What is Story Mapping

Story Mapping is an Agile technique for managing product backlogs developed by Jeff Patton.  I first discovered the term Story Mapping via a blog post by Jeff called The New User Story Backlog is a Map.  The blog post is a very insightful and clear explanation of Jeff's motivation for the idea.  Rather than me repeat his content in detail you should just go read his content.

Jeff himself first articulated the idea publicly in an article in Better Software called How you Slice It (free PDF.)  It's a technique for sorting and simplifying backlogs that are too large and complex for a simple list.  How can we create different views on the backlog that help us understand what is happening and how the product is evolving?

There are arguments against the story map concept. The one that springs to mind is that you should have a lean and small backlog and so you shouldn't need all this high faluting modelling.  In reality, most of us, especially those of us in large organisations, need tools like this to help us sort through the complexity.

When I talk about Story Maps in training and coaching sessions I am always drawn to BJ Clarke's diragram which I think is great. What I like about this diagram is the way he blends the structured three tier form of a story map with the rough and ready hand drawn notations.  For me this just feels like a good diagram.  Thanks BJ.

Another blog post I discovered via the nice diagram is via Dreamfeed, which also has a really nice blog post on Story Mapping that I think you should read.

Story maps don't stand alone in Jeff's metal model for managing product development.  This all happens in a context that includes developing persona's and designing with the user experience in the centre of your thinking processes.  It's all about thinking big picture so you can delight your clients.  A micro-focus is good when doing the work, but a macro-focus is also needed when thinking about the customer.

For example, when I create story maps they end up looking very much like a top three layer of a WBS with a Prince2-like product breakdown style to them.  They don't always end up like this and they don't have to either.  Other people I know fall into other habits like building story maps around process maps.  I am not sure what Jeff thinks off these variations on his idea, but I'll keep an eye out on the topic.

What stories do you have to share about Story Maps?

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