Visualise requirements and create common understanding with user story mapping

23. November 2020 - from Barbara Sollmann

A good story begins with "Once upon a time.... ”

In the development of digital products, it looks very similar. Our clients usually come to us with more or less concrete ideas and we develop the solution together with them. It is always easiest for us if we become protagonists in the story of the idea as early as possible. In addition, it is important in every case and with every project to get to know each other well and to really understand an idea or a project. The method of user story mapping and the examination of the map helps with both.

The map through the history of the users

User Story Mapping, loosely translated as "mapping of user stories", is a visualisation method of requirements based on the narrative flow. Especially when we implement projects in an agile way, e.g. according to Scrum, we like to start with a story map. But also with the waterfall project management method, predefined methods such as Hermes or in mixed forms, user story mapping is often a good method to use at the beginning of a project. This way, a common understanding of the whole scope can be created before starting with detailed requirement engineering.

Creating and developing a user story map together with our customers and the development team is a methodology within our user-centred design process. It is about focusing on the needs and behaviour of the users when developing a solution.

What is a user story map? 

The user story map is the story from the point of view of the different users along a specific narrative flow. It describes the activities along the path through a digital product that a user performs in order to reach the respective goal. 

What can user story mapping do?

User story mapping creates a common understanding of the scope, features and functions of a product and the requirements derived from them. The collaborative development of a user story map is also naturally conducive to team spirit: You achieve something together. Ideas and wishes can be brought in and immediately discussed, and a common understanding and clarity about the product to be developed emerges. Discussions are stimulated, priorities are discussed and connections are shown. The focus is on the people in our story, the users. Already at the project initiation stage, we focus on the added value for the users of the application. The user experience is always in the foreground.

How does user story mapping succeed?

Step 0: Create common conditions

Clear communication of what the vision and goal of the product are and what core problems it should solve creates a basic understanding among all team members. This enables them to make a well-founded contribution to the creation of the story map. Further clarity is provided by precisely defined roles for the protagonists of our story: Are they all roughly the same? Do they all follow the same path, or do different users need a different map?

The vision, goal and user roles can be visually noted around the story map.

Step 1: Features (User tasks)

We like to start with the features, i.e. the requirements from the user's point of view. We lay these horizontally next to each other. They are the flow of our story and represent the actions that the users of the product perform. We arrange these actions chronologically in order of how a user interacts with the product.

In our view, features are requirements that a customer can formulate and communicate well. It's about describing what the product should be able to do. This can be something like login/logout, edit user name or upload profile picture. So at the feature level, the function is only roughly described.

Post-its with Epics and Features

Step 2: Epics (User activities)

Epics show exactly where the requirements are attached. As soon as some features have been defined, it often becomes clear automatically what belongs together and how the features can be grouped. Several features with similar themes are thus combined into one epic. Classic features such as those mentioned above belong to the Epic profile.

Complete User Story Map

Epics show exactly where the requirements are attached. As soon as some features have been defined, it often becomes clear automatically what belongs together and how the features can be grouped. Several features with similar themes are thus combined into one epic. Classic features such as those mentioned above belong to the Epic profile.

However, our story only becomes really lively and exciting when it is filled with "life". User stories are located below the features. These are details that describe the respective feature in more detail.

The requirements, which are implemented by the team members, result from the user stories. For this purpose, the requirements are later further broken down into tasks and sub-tasks so that these tasks can then be tackled step by step by designers and developers and their implementation can be checked by testers.

A user story always has the same structure: 

"As <role> I want <goal/desire> to <benefit>"

A concrete example of a user story is therefore:

As a user, I would like to see an input field for my email address and password so that I can log in.

Project members, clients and other stakeholders now have a picture of the whole story in front of them. The process is clear and individual tasks can be developed and completed based on the "story". The division of individual stories and features into functional groups in the form of epics has another advantage: the parts of a solution can be prioritized and implemented step by step. This in turn helps to start with the core benefit and simplifies planning.

User story mapping in virtual teams

In recent months, and especially with regard to "New Work", i.e. digital and location-independent working, we did not want to do without this valuable technology. Luckily for us, there are great tools like Miro, Lucidchart and many more that enable us to "write stories" together with our clients digitally.

Digital User Story Mapping

All project members can be invited to a working document for this purpose. Depending on their permissions, the participants can digitally shape the document - the story -, comment on it or just view it. The experience of creating a product together can therefore also be successfully implemented virtually.

Good Experiences

User story mapping helps us implement projects successfully because we focus on the users and their experience (user experience) as well as the usability of the application and the actual goal behind it right from the start. In addition, the requirements are defined at the beginning of the project and a common understanding is created. That's why not only we are fans of user story mapping, our customers are too:

Nina Wehrli FELFEL

"Thanks to the application of user story mapping at the beginning of the project, we knew exactly which functionalities our platform should contain. The method makes it easier to put oneself in the shoes of a user and to imagine what demands are placed on our FELFEL platform. In addition, the visualisation of the user stories helped bring an overview into the complex processes and prioritize the development steps afterwards."

Nina Wehrli, Project Management at FELFEL

We just noticed that you surf with Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, our website does not look so nice with it.

You want to know why that is?
We have written about it.


You need help with the changeover?
Get in touch. We are happy to help


Install a new browser?
There's lots of choice.