Agile workflow

8 min read

Online user story mapping for remote teams

Mon Aug 31 2020
Nick Muldoon
Written by Nick Muldoon, Co-CEO

Get ready for remote user story mapping

Whether you've done user story mapping before (in person) or you're new to user story mapping, there's a very good chance that you'll need to do remote user story mapping for the first time in 2020.

Even before the pandemic, 4.7 million people in the US worked remote, and an estimated 31% of US workers employed in March 2020 were working from home by April 2020.

And after lockdown ends, it’s likely we’ll see permanent changes to the way we work. Surveys show that 80% of employees are keen to work from home at least some of the time. Plus, more organizations are realizing that offering flexible, remote work options can lead to better work-life balance for employees, lower overheads, lower environmental impacts, and improved productivity.

...which is all to say that remote user story mapping is about to be the norm.

So, what do you need to know before you run your first online user story mapping event? Let's go through 8 things you should consider for successful remote user story mapping.

1. Get the basics right

First thing's first: you need your basics sorted. Make sure your team understands what user story mapping is, why user story mapping is important, and how to do it.

This will help get them onboard - which is critical, because you'll need them to commit two full days to the process.

If anyone on your team is new to user story mapping, send them to our user story mapping ultimate guide. It's got everything they need to know 👌

2. Set your agenda

User story mapping should be a scheduled event. You should know what's happening and when to make sure that your team stays on schedule and completes all the steps required to produce a finished story map. Here's a fairly standard agenda:

User Story Mapping agenda

Knowing your agenda is especially important for remote story mapping, because it's a lot easier to veer off track when people aren't physically in the room.

Sally might head to the kitchen for a long lunch and miss the most important bit. Or Bob might need to coordinate his schedule so that his partner can mind the kids for a solid hour or so while he's involved in estimating the work.

Setting the agenda ahead of time will also help your team start thinking about the session and user stories before the event. That way, they’ll feel more prepared and ready to participate in discussions.

By the way, if you’re not familiar with all the items in the above agenda, we talk more about the specific steps and how to do user story mapping in our ultimate guide to user story mapping.

3. Plan your session

When are you going to hold your live online user story mapping session? Most teams need a full two days to work through all the steps, so you'll need to find two days (ideally in a row) where everyone is available.

If your team is located across multiple timezones, you'll also need to consider what times give you the best crossover so that team members aren't working at 2am (unless they want to).

4. Decide on who

Remote user story mapping could present you with a bit of a conundrum. Unlike in-person events where you're limited on space, you could technically have unlimited people chime into your virtual session. But you definitely don't want that - too many people will make you inefficient (and they could use their time to add value to your business in other ways).

It’s a good idea to cap your numbers at around 12 people. Include team members and stakeholders across multiple departments, along with your product manager, UX designer, and developers.

Also decide who is going to lead the session and who will be responsible for creating the story map.

The good news is that online user story mapping makes it easy to record sessions - you'll have a digital record of your conference calls and your story mapping board. So anyone who's curious can easily catch up on the highlights once your event is over.

5. Make some rules

Working and collaborating remotely can feel a bit like the wild, wild west - especially the first few weeks or months. Everyone's still figuring out how to make this thing work - and how to get things done effectively in a new environment.

We've all been to conference calls where somebody didn't know proper etiquette or their audio/video ended up distracting other attendees.

So, with that in mind, here are some rules you might like to share ahead of your remote user story mapping session to make it a little less chaotic and a lot more productive:

  • Don’t be late
  • Put your camera on
  • Save your food for a designated break
  • Don’t take your device for a walk
  • Close your door, if you can
  • Stay focused on the task (no checking emails!)
  • One person talks at a time
  • Wait until everyone has had a chance to provide input before moving on
  • If you’re not talking or participating in the conversion, mute yourself (to avoid interference or background noise that could stop people from focusing)

Of course, be realistic. Your team members are likely working from home in less-than-ideal circumstances, whether they're quarantined with family members, stuck at home with a sick child, or dealing with a bad-mannered house dog.

There will be noise and disruptions - and despite their best efforts, someone will be late. As long as people do their best to hit the mute button at the right time and consider others, your session should run smoothly.

6. Get your tech ready

Previously, you might have been able to show up to a user story mapping session with just your brainy self and a pen 🧠🖊️ You'll still need your brain for remote user story mapping, but you can ditch the pen.

Instead, you'll need to make sure you and your team have access to the technology they need to participate and collaborate online. Things like:

  • Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype access - Everyone should have their account ready to go, along with some experience using the platform
  • Slack or Microsoft Teams - Set up real-time chat for when you’re not in a video conferencing session
  • Headphones & Microphone - These should be working well and tested ahead of time
  • Webcam - While not strictly necessary, a webcam will help you replicate the feeling of being in the room together
  • Internet - Ask your team to test their connection and make sure it's reliable - and ideally, have at least one backup option (like a local cafe, friend's house, or mobile hotspotting)

The right technology will allow you to adapt the user story mapping process to work for your remote team.

7. Get user story mapping software

Easy Agile User Story Maps

A physical user story mapping session usually involves a long sheet of paper or cardboard, with hundreds of tiny post-it notes for each story and backbone item, and string to show cut lines.

The good news is, if you're doing remote user story mapping, you won't need to clear out your nearest stationery supply store 🎉 But you will need to equip yourself with some digital tools to replicate the physical story mapping board online.

There are a few user story mapping tools on the market, but we're partial to Easy Agile User Story Maps. It plugs straight into your existing Jira workspace, allowing you to:

  • Visually map your customer journey
  • Assign stories to epics
  • Prioritize and sequence stories
  • Arrange stories into sprint and version swimlanes
  • Add story point estimates

It’s just like physical user story mapping, but done digitally inside of Jira. That makes it perfect for running a remote user story mapping session.

Okay, so we may be a little biased, but these people aren't:

rachel purpel
casey flynn
Rafal Zydek

Want to give it a spin for your upcoming remote user story mapping session? Sign up for our free 30-day trial to see the benefits for you and your team. We’re confident you’ll love what you find!

8. Integrate your workflow

Last but not least, make sure that your remote user story mapping session integrates with your workflow

Good news! If you use a digital user story mapping tool (like Easy Agile's), you'll find it much easier to integrate your story map into your workflow. Once your user story mapping session is finished, your user stories are already set up in Jira, and organized into sprints or versions so that your team knows exactly what they need to work on next.

(Although they might want to take a day or two to ease back into it...😴)

Set yourself up for success!

With the right preparation and tools, you'll set yourself up for a relatively smooth remote user story mapping session. And after that? You'll be set to do your future story mapping events in a more streamlined, digital way, whether you're required to work remote, collaborate with a distributed team, or work from the office.

And based on the way work is changing in 2020 (and beyond), that's a very good skill to have.

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