Agile workflow

5 min read

Why User Story Mapping?

Thu Jul 30 2020
Sean Blake
Written by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

What is User Story Mapping? And more importantly, WHY would you want to run a story mapping session with your team?

Let’s start off by talking about the origins of User Story Mapping.

It’s now a common practice in agile software development, but it wasn’t always that way.

If you have experience with a Scrum or Kanban backlog, you've likely run into the dreaded flat backlog.

Why Story Mapping

Flat backlog

In its simplest form, a flat product backlog is a laundry list of stuff 'to do' that will ultimately provide some form of value to your users/customers. At least we hope so.

Many of us have contributed to making these backlogs longer and longer, and they inevitably become overwhelming.

Regardless of whether the team pulls work from the backlog one-by-one or groups it into sprints, prioritizing work in a flat backlog comes with its challenges.

The flat backlog is a 2 dimensional view. It’s like a shopping list, which doesn’t provide context for the work.

shopping list

Enter, the User Story Map! The concept of a User Story Map was born out of a desire to kill the flat backlog and create a more holistic, customer centric overview of our work.

A user story map is a visualisation of the journey a customer takes with a product, and includes the activities and tasks they would typically complete.

story map

Usually conducted at the beginning of a Project, a user story mapping session is done with the sole purpose of creating a shared understanding amongst the team of who your customers are and how you should focus your time working on stories that provide the most value for them.

You can do this on a whiteboard with sticky notes, or you can do it in Jira using our app, Easy Agile TeamRhythm.

How to build a user story map

To create a visualisation of the journey a customer takes with a product, start by identifying each stage, and then list the activities and tasks the customer would typically complete for each.


Next, begin to associate each item of work in the backlog with its corresponding touchpoint in the customer journey.

At this point in a User Story Mapping session, a matrix should begin to emerge, containing a list of tasks or stories to which the team has committed to delivering, organized according to the steps in the customer journey.


From there, the map is divided into the time blocks the team uses to plan their work. For example, in sprint 1, the team might commit to 5 user stories, which are attached to 3 epics.

This helps build understanding of how progress will be made against larger pieces of work.

Why user story mapping is better than a flat backlog

Connecting the work in the backlog to the customer journey in this way begins to answer key questions like:

  • WHY are we building this?
  • WHO are we building this for?
  • WHAT value will it provide them?
  • WHEN do we expect to deliver this?

User story mapping essentially converts the 2D flat backlog in a three-dimensional view, because it gives us a way to say, “ok I’m currently working on building this user story, and I can visualise what piece of the customer journey this will be directly impacting AND we know when it will be delivered.”

sprint swimlanes

Also, by putting the focus on the user, a story map ensures that the backlog contains work that add real value for the customer by helping them achieve their goals.

How to run a user story mapping session

Now that you have a better understanding of the value of a User Story Map, let's look at how to create one. First, you’ll need to set up a Story Mapping session with your team.

But whatever you do, don’t make it an open invite. This is really important, because if you don’t have the right people in the room then it won’t be effective.

People you could consider inviting are:

invite list

The product owner for the team

  • a tech lead
  • a user experience designer
  • a marketing lead
  • a data analyst and,
  • someone from customer support

It’s also important to set some ground rules for the session.

There should be one person facilitating the session. A good practice is to involve a Product Manager from another team to run the session.

Depending on the scope of the story mapping session you may want to take a whole day or spread it out over a couple of days.

The scope all depends on how big your team is and how many user stories you need to add to your map.

There should be no phones or laptops out except for the facilitator.

Also, everyone in the room should be familiar with the user stories being discussed.

Now that you know the benefits of a user story map and what to consider when setting up the mapping session with your team, start thinking about who you can invite to participate in and facilitate the session.

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