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What Is User Story Mapping?

User stories are concise descriptions of a software capability, written from the point of view of the customer or end user. A user story is an efficient way of precisely capturing the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a product requirement and can be thought of as a ‘to-do’ list that guides the product development journey.In this article, we will talk about what is user story mapping, why it is important, and how and when it should be done. You will get a high-level view of story mapping, understand the core concepts involved, and learn how to bring user stories to life in your Agile projects so that your team can get the maximum benefit from this technique.What is user story mapping?User story maps are simple, lightweight representations of the product development journey in an Agile project. This method was popularised by Jeff Patton who first wrote about it in his book User Story Mapping, where he outlined how this technique could be used to help keep the focus on user needs without getting tangled up in never-ending product feature requirements.These story maps—which are changeable and keep evolving throughout the journey—enable the team to have meaningful conversations about user needs through the development process, never losing sight of the big picture.Source: nngroup.comUser-Story Mapping DefinedUser story mapping can be defined as an exercise during which product managers and development teams list out the work that will create the most value to end users, maximising customer delight.During this exercise, teams create a dynamic outline of the ways in which the customer is expected to use the product. They try to understand which steps offer the most value and prioritise the stories accordingly. The user story format is an amazingly simple, concise sentence which clearly captures the requirements:“As a [type of user], I want to [action] so that [benefit]. “ Without getting into too much detail, this format holds the essence of product interactions from a user’s perspective.Why It’s Called User-Story MappingIn the user-story map, all the activities are captured as short phrases that represent actual user actions. The first half of the user-story format, therefore, talks about what the user wants to do with the product. Next, the story is elaborated to include the key benefits as the second half of the conversation. So, this mapping method is called user-story mapping because it is cantered on the user and his or her needs. Later, the team fleshes out this simple sentence into detailed user stories that are discussed, with acceptance criteria added on, and then added to the product/sprint backlog for completion during each sprint as per priority. As we can see, the purpose behind user stories is to spark a dialogue around the solutions to user needs, from the viewpoint of the customer who will be using the product. The users are usually laypersons who are likely to be non-technical, and therefore the product must be easy to use, with an interface that is not complex and can be navigated easily. When the entire exercise is cantered on the user, the focus gets shifted to the customer’s perspective and maximises the product value in terms of user satisfaction. When and How to Create a User Story MapThe user story map is created as one of the first exercises in the product development process. It is not a rigid document, and evolves as the journey unfolds, in keeping with the spirit of Agile.  Subsequently, the user story mapping can be carried out whenever the team needs more clarity on how to improve on the first version, how to manage the backlog or when branching out in a new direction with requirements for product extensions. These are the processes involved in creating a User Story Map: 1. Start with the big pictureStart by identifying the big picture. What are the broad user applications that your product must support? Draft these big stories on cards and arrange them in the order of priority for the end user.2. Break down the bigger storiesEach of these big user activities is now broken down into smaller user tasks. Once again, keep the user in mind and prioritise these tasks from the user’s perspective. This is now the backbone of your User Story Map.3. Look for the gapsIt helps to walk through the map with your customers or stakeholders. Is there anything you’ve missed out? They will help you to fill in the gaps.4. Start prioritisingRemember, at this stage it is still a high-level map and is highly likely to get changed down the line. Put the user tasks and subtasks within each activity into the order of importance.5. Select your first releaseFrom all the tasks listed, choose the ones that will go into your first version, which will be the MVP or Minimum Viable Product for your very first release.Once you have the ball rolling, get started on your first release and then keep the momentum alive by planning subsequent releases in the same way. As you go along, you will be re-ordering the user story map, aligning subsequent stories horizontally to match your timeline, and creating order out of chaos.What are some benefits of user story mapping?As we have already seen, user story mapping is a systematic and highly efficient way of working out task priorities. When done right, it offers significant benefits that help teams build products that customers will love. Lays the focus on the userAny product must be built with the end user in mind. User story mapping shines the spotlight on the user’s needs and tells the story from the point of view of the user. It maps out the user experience and helps to emphasize the efforts that will lead to the best outcomes, creating an outside-in approach rather than the traditional inside-out way of working. Sets priorities By breaking down the bigger picture into smaller tasks, while always keeping the vision in mind, teams can decide what is important and what needs to get built first. A holistic visualisation of tasks helps to put priorities in the right perspective. Teams will organize releases around the delivery of maximum value and push items of lower value to the bottom of the backlog. Gives clarity on requirements When requirements are laid out in the form of strong user stories, teams get clarity on what needs to be done. They can get a visual representation of how the larger work items can get broken down into smaller tasks and understand which are the tasks that club together to make one feature. Delivers value quicklyWork gets grouped together into iterations, and releases are planned around delivery of value. By working on the more important tasks faster, teams can deliver product increments more rapidly, get feedback early and maximise customer value. Mitigates risks earlyRisks and dependencies get exposed early in the development journey, and developers can plan to mitigate these risks and iron out potential obstacles to smooth progress of work. Early planning can reduce dependencies and streamline the tasks more effectively. Builds team collaborationIn the end, the project progress will depend on how well the team works together. User story mapping is a team building exercise where the team members get a shared view of the customer experience and work together to map out tasks. Team collaboration is built through meaningful conversations.  Who should participate in user story mapping?User story mapping is one of the most important exercises during the planning stage. It brings cross functional teams into better alignment and helps them work collaboratively toward building the best possible product in the market. It is important that all teams whose work will contribute toward successful delivery should participate in the dialogue.Team members from Engineering, UX/design, Product management, Sales, Customer support, Finance, Ops / IT, Legal and Marketing teams can take part in this exercise and give their valuable inputs. How does user story mapping work?Teams can use planning software like Lucid chart, or even simple physical resources like a chart or a section of wall with sticky notes, to build the story map. Once they have decided on the medium to use, they can work on the following steps:1. Define the problemWhat is the problem that is solved by your product? This is your product goal, and it’s important to clearly define it at the outset. Once the goal is defined, the work that is to be done to achieve this goal can be mapped.2. Understand the target audienceAny user story exercise starts with creating a persona as the end user. There could be several distinct categories of users, and all must be discussed. Each target persona will have a unique way of interacting with your product. Once the personas are understood, the user stories can be built from the perspective of each of these target users. This is an important aspect, as efforts are not wasted in building features that may not be important to any of these end users.  Source: storiesonboard.com3. Map user interactionsEach user will use the product through a series of activities related to the product. Also known as themes, these activities are what will form the structural outline of the user story map. As an example, when buying an online service, users may wish to search a list of service providers, view their online rankings, check prices, and then put the chosen service item into the cart and complete the payment. These will comprise the main stories, and each will then be broken down into smaller tasks.4. Break down the storiesEach of the major stories is then fleshed out into smaller activities, which are then written down in the format: ‘As a _______, I want to _________, so that _______.’ For instance, this could be something like: As a subscriber of Amazon music, I want to search for hip-hop music, so that I can make a playlist. 5. Set priorities and decide the flowOnce your bigger themes and user stories are mapped out, the next step is to prioritise and set the flow. Always rank them in such a way that the most urgent tasks are on the top of the list. The flow of tasks is usually always from left to right, and top to down. The visual representation of the user story mapping is already taking a visual form, helping teams to decide on the sequence and importance of work to be done.6. Look for gaps and dependenciesThis is a crucial step that will help to identify any bottlenecks that could impede progress. For instance, for task C to be completed, task A must first be finished. But for task C to even begin, there might be an interim task B that has not even been listed on the chart. In this way, all the missing gaps can be filled, and dependencies noted. Teams could also discuss workarounds if any if a dependency is found for which they do not have a resource now.7. Schedule sprints and releasesThis is the stage where teams create action plans and schedules. Now that they know the quantum of work that is needed, they can gauge the work that is needed to deliver the most value in the shortest time and group activities together into sprints and releases, always keeping user priorities in the forefront.What are some challenges of user story mapping?While user story mapping can yield great results when done the right way, it comes with its own set of challenges for teams that are inadequately prepared. Look out for these challenges:No personaThere might be instances where there is lack of clarity on who the end user is. In such cases, imagine a persona who represents the most possible end user, and work with this characterisation. Lack of clarity on the end goalThe product goal is the solution to a problem that exists and is the reason for building the product. When there is lack of clarity on the problem itself, then the team could end up building stories on the wrong goals. This will waste time, money and effort and could result in some unnecessary rework and lack of motivation. Not using collaborative software Smaller teams who are co-located might find it makes sense to do their planning using sticky notes on a wall, or markers on a whiteboard. What happens if someone cleans the whiteboard by mistake, or some of the notes fall off and are swept away? All the planning would have been in vain! Repetitions and reworkThe stories in a user story map might need to be rewritten in the form of a product backlog, which involves some rework. Instead, use collaborative tools that map progress and automatically keep records of the work done. An added advantage of using the right tools is that distributed teams can also participate in the planning and tracking of goals. What happens after user story mapping is completed?Once the user story mapping exercise is completed, teams will schedule their list of stories as per priority into sprints and releases. This forms the outline of the product roadmap, which will need to be shared with management and other teams that did not participate to ensure consensus. At this point, any teams which were not able to participate in the planning so far may give their inputs as well. The final user story mapping could be transferred to a shared software tool so that it can be viewed by all teams concerned in real time. Engineering team members will add technical specs and detail out their acceptance criteria, so that the Definition of Done for each story is known to all teams. This story map is never static but is always a work in progress. Estimates could be revised, schedules may be moved up or down, and parallel branches of the product might need to be added. At any time, the story map reflects the work to be done.What agile values and principles does story mapping support?Story mapping is an especially useful and productive tool that helps product managers and development teams to maximise customer value through an adaptive, iterative approach. At each stage, they will find plenty of opportunities to learn and improve themselves and the processes. As such, story mapping supports these values of the Agile Manifesto:  Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: The best results are obtained when many heads are put together to collaborate on the product. Each person will input their expertise, and the collaborative efforts are always far better than efforts of a few. User story mapping is an exercise in team collaboration. Responding to change over following a plan: Any Agile project is, by its very nature, adaptive and is designed to factor in all emerging requirements easily. When a new user story is added, or an existing one is changed, it becomes very easy to visualise the implications on the rest of the stories. User-Story Mapping vs. Customer-Journey MappingWhile user-story mapping and customer-journey mapping sound remarkably similar, there is a subtle difference in the emphasis. A customer journey map takes the perspective of the user and shows their interactions with the product and the steps taken to achieve an objective. It will also think about the user’s thoughts and experiences during this journey. On the other hand, a user story is mapped from the point of view of the product, as the user interacts with it. It will guide the planning of features and functionality, as the product tries to solve the user’s problems.  Both will work very well when combined to achieve all the product goals and create and maximise customer delight. What Problems Does Story Mapping Solve?Story mapping solves the problems that arise due to lack of clarity in defining the requirements and tasks. It helps teams to comprehend user needs, set priorities for tasks, and collaborate with each other effectively. It helps to keep the focus on what is important- the end goals- so that the team does not get side-tracked into doing less important tasks. Once the user stories are mapped, the final set of acceptance criteria can be drawn up, schedules can be created, and a roadmap can be outlined.How Do You Use Story Mapping to Prioritize Roadmap Initiatives?User story maps give all the inputs needed to create a product roadmap. All the features are listed out in detail, broken down into user stories and basic priorities are set. All that remains is to group the features that deliver maximum value in the quickest time together, and schedule releases based on the team’s capabilities.  Here is how to go about this: Arrange the items as per priority and assign each item story points to estimate the effort required for completion. Increase efficiency by clustering items that should be built together as they have dependencies on each other. This will help to determine how much of work will fit into each release, and you can then plan releases and sprints accordingly. You could decide to go with an equal number of items per release, or regroup based on the size, complexity, or importance of items. Once your tasks are decided for each release, map them to successful outcomes. Remember, at the end of each sprint you should have a potentially shippable increment that delivers a measurable amount of product value to highlight to stakeholders. If you have a feature that is too large to be completed in one single sprint, build the bare structure first, fleshing it out in the next iteration. This way, you can quickly get the functionality out, but continue to improve on it and incorporate user feedback.  Try to avoid a sprint where there is no actual value that is delivered to the end user, even though some progress has been made.Conclusion Anyone who has created user stories knows that this takes time and effort, and the best results come with experience. They allow teams to see the bigger picture, keeping the user at the core of all development progress. When done the right way, user story mapping promotes meaningful collaboration, enables quicker feedback and faster deliveries, and results in creating high-quality product features that most suit customer needs. 

What Is User Story Mapping?

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What Is User Story Mapping?

User stories are concise descriptions of a software capability, written from the point of view of the customer or end user. A user story is an efficient way of precisely capturing the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a product requirement and can be thought of as a ‘to-do’ list that guides the product development journey.

In this article, we will talk about what is user story mapping, why it is important, and how and when it should be done. You will get a high-level view of story mapping, understand the core concepts involved, and learn how to bring user stories to life in your Agile projects so that your team can get the maximum benefit from this technique.

What is user story mapping?

User story maps are simple, lightweight representations of the product development journey in an Agile project. This method was popularised by Jeff Patton who first wrote about it in his book User Story Mapping, where he outlined how this technique could be used to help keep the focus on user needs without getting tangled up in never-ending product feature requirements.

These story maps—which are changeable and keep evolving throughout the journey—enable the team to have meaningful conversations about user needs through the development process, never losing sight of the big picture.User-Story Mapping Levels

Source: nngroup.com

User-Story Mapping Defined

User story mapping can be defined as an exercise during which product managers and development teams list out the work that will create the most value to end users, maximising customer delight.

During this exercise, teams create a dynamic outline of the ways in which the customer is expected to use the product. They try to understand which steps offer the most value and prioritise the stories accordingly. 

The user story format is an amazingly simple, concise sentence which clearly captures the requirements:

“As a [type of user], I want to [action] so that [benefit]. “ 

Without getting into too much detail, this format holds the essence of product interactions from a user’s perspective.Agile User Stories

Why It’s Called User-Story Mapping

In the user-story map, all the activities are captured as short phrases that represent actual user actions. The first half of the user-story format, therefore, talks about what the user wants to do with the product. Next, the story is elaborated to include the key benefits as the second half of the conversation. So, this mapping method is called user-story mapping because it is cantered on the user and his or her needs. 

Later, the team fleshes out this simple sentence into detailed user stories that are discussed, with acceptance criteria added on, and then added to the product/sprint backlog for completion during each sprint as per priority. 

As we can see, the purpose behind user stories is to spark a dialogue around the solutions to user needs, from the viewpoint of the customer who will be using the product. The users are usually laypersons who are likely to be non-technical, and therefore the product must be easy to use, with an interface that is not complex and can be navigated easily. When the entire exercise is cantered on the user, the focus gets shifted to the customer’s perspective and maximises the product value in terms of user satisfaction. 

When and How to Create a User Story Map

The user story map is created as one of the first exercises in the product development process. It is not a rigid document, and evolves as the journey unfolds, in keeping with the spirit of Agile.  

Subsequently, the user story mapping can be carried out whenever the team needs more clarity on how to improve on the first version, how to manage the backlog or when branching out in a new direction with requirements for product extensions. 

These are the processes involved in creating a User Story Map: 

1. Start with the big picture

Start by identifying the big picture. What are the broad user applications that your product must support? Draft these big stories on cards and arrange them in the order of priority for the end user.

2. Break down the bigger stories

Each of these big user activities is now broken down into smaller user tasks. Once again, keep the user in mind and prioritise these tasks from the user’s perspective. This is now the backbone of your User Story Map.

3. Look for the gaps

It helps to walk through the map with your customers or stakeholders. Is there anything you’ve missed out? They will help you to fill in the gaps.

4. Start prioritising

Remember, at this stage it is still a high-level map and is highly likely to get changed down the line. Put the user tasks and subtasks within each activity into the order of importance.

5. Select your first release

From all the tasks listed, choose the ones that will go into your first version, which will be the MVP or Minimum Viable Product for your very first release.

Once you have the ball rolling, get started on your first release and then keep the momentum alive by planning subsequent releases in the same way. As you go along, you will be re-ordering the user story map, aligning subsequent stories horizontally to match your timeline, and creating order out of chaos.

What are some benefits of user story mapping?

As we have already seen, user story mapping is a systematic and highly efficient way of working out task priorities. When done right, it offers significant benefits that help teams build products that customers will love. 

  • Lays the focus on the user

Any product must be built with the end user in mind. User story mapping shines the spotlight on the user’s needs and tells the story from the point of view of the user. It maps out the user experience and helps to emphasize the efforts that will lead to the best outcomes, creating an outside-in approach rather than the traditional inside-out way of working. 

  • Sets priorities 

By breaking down the bigger picture into smaller tasks, while always keeping the vision in mind, teams can decide what is important and what needs to get built first. A holistic visualisation of tasks helps to put priorities in the right perspective. Teams will organize releases around the delivery of maximum value and push items of lower value to the bottom of the backlog. 

  • Gives clarity on requirements 

When requirements are laid out in the form of strong user stories, teams get clarity on what needs to be done. They can get a visual representation of how the larger work items can get broken down into smaller tasks and understand which are the tasks that club together to make one feature. 

  • Delivers value quickly

Work gets grouped together into iterations, and releases are planned around delivery of value. By working on the more important tasks faster, teams can deliver product increments more rapidly, get feedback early and maximise customer value. 

  • Mitigates risks early

Risks and dependencies get exposed early in the development journey, and developers can plan to mitigate these risks and iron out potential obstacles to smooth progress of work. Early planning can reduce dependencies and streamline the tasks more effectively. 

  • Builds team collaboration

In the end, the project progress will depend on how well the team works together. User story mapping is a team building exercise where the team members get a shared view of the customer experience and work together to map out tasks. Team collaboration is built through meaningful conversations.  

Who should participate in user story mapping?

User story mapping is one of the most important exercises during the planning stage. It brings cross functional teams into better alignment and helps them work collaboratively toward building the best possible product in the market. It is important that all teams whose work will contribute toward successful delivery should participate in the dialogue.

Team members from Engineering, UX/design, Product management, Sales, Customer support, Finance, Ops / IT, Legal and Marketing teams can take part in this exercise and give their valuable inputs. 

How does user story mapping work?

Teams can use planning software like Lucid chart, or even simple physical resources like a chart or a section of wall with sticky notes, to build the story map. Once they have decided on the medium to use, they can work on the following steps:

1. Define the problem

What is the problem that is solved by your product? This is your product goal, and it’s important to clearly define it at the outset. Once the goal is defined, the work that is to be done to achieve this goal can be mapped.

2. Understand the target audience

Any user story exercise starts with creating a persona as the end user. There could be several distinct categories of users, and all must be discussed. Each target persona will have a unique way of interacting with your product. Once the personas are understood, the user stories can be built from the perspective of each of these target users. This is an important aspect, as efforts are not wasted in building features that may not be important to any of these end users.  

Target Audience for User Story

Source: storiesonboard.com

3. Map user interactions

Each user will use the product through a series of activities related to the product. Also known as themes, these activities are what will form the structural outline of the user story map. As an example, when buying an online service, users may wish to search a list of service providers, view their online rankings, check prices, and then put the chosen service item into the cart and complete the payment. These will comprise the main stories, and each will then be broken down into smaller tasks.

4. Break down the stories

Each of the major stories is then fleshed out into smaller activities, which are then written down in the format: ‘As a _______, I want to _________, so that _______.’ 

For instance, this could be something like: As a subscriber of Amazon music, I want to search for hip-hop music, so that I can make a playlist. 

5. Set priorities and decide the flow

Once your bigger themes and user stories are mapped out, the next step is to prioritise and set the flow. Always rank them in such a way that the most urgent tasks are on the top of the list. The flow of tasks is usually always from left to right, and top to down. The visual representation of the user story mapping is already taking a visual form, helping teams to decide on the sequence and importance of work to be done.

6. Look for gaps and dependencies

This is a crucial step that will help to identify any bottlenecks that could impede progress. For instance, for task C to be completed, task A must first be finished. But for task C to even begin, there might be an interim task B that has not even been listed on the chart. In this way, all the missing gaps can be filled, and dependencies noted. Teams could also discuss workarounds if any if a dependency is found for which they do not have a resource now.

7. Schedule sprints and releases

This is the stage where teams create action plans and schedules. Now that they know the quantum of work that is needed, they can gauge the work that is needed to deliver the most value in the shortest time and group activities together into sprints and releases, always keeping user priorities in the forefront.

What are some challenges of user story mapping?

While user story mapping can yield great results when done the right way, it comes with its own set of challenges for teams that are inadequately prepared. Look out for these challenges:

  • No persona

There might be instances where there is lack of clarity on who the end user is. In such cases, imagine a persona who represents the most possible end user, and work with this characterisation. 

  • Lack of clarity on the end goal

The product goal is the solution to a problem that exists and is the reason for building the product. When there is lack of clarity on the problem itself, then the team could end up building stories on the wrong goals. This will waste time, money and effort and could result in some unnecessary rework and lack of motivation. 

  • Not using collaborative software 

Smaller teams who are co-located might find it makes sense to do their planning using sticky notes on a wall, or markers on a whiteboard. What happens if someone cleans the whiteboard by mistake, or some of the notes fall off and are swept away? All the planning would have been in vain! 

  • Repetitions and rework

The stories in a user story map might need to be rewritten in the form of a product backlog, which involves some rework. Instead, use collaborative tools that map progress and automatically keep records of the work done. An added advantage of using the right tools is that distributed teams can also participate in the planning and tracking of goals. 

What happens after user story mapping is completed?

Once the user story mapping exercise is completed, teams will schedule their list of stories as per priority into sprints and releases. This forms the outline of the product roadmap, which will need to be shared with management and other teams that did not participate to ensure consensus. At this point, any teams which were not able to participate in the planning so far may give their inputs as well. 

The final user story mapping could be transferred to a shared software tool so that it can be viewed by all teams concerned in real time. Engineering team members will add technical specs and detail out their acceptance criteria, so that the Definition of Done for each story is known to all teams. 

This story map is never static but is always a work in progress. Estimates could be revised, schedules may be moved up or down, and parallel branches of the product might need to be added. At any time, the story map reflects the work to be done.

What agile values and principles does story mapping support?

Story mapping is an especially useful and productive tool that helps product managers and development teams to maximise customer value through an adaptive, iterative approach. At each stage, they will find plenty of opportunities to learn and improve themselves and the processes. 

As such, story mapping supports these values of the Agile Manifesto:  

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: The best results are obtained when many heads are put together to collaborate on the product. Each person will input their expertise, and the collaborative efforts are always far better than efforts of a few. User story mapping is an exercise in team collaboration. 
  • Responding to change over following a plan: Any Agile project is, by its very nature, adaptive and is designed to factor in all emerging requirements easily. When a new user story is added, or an existing one is changed, it becomes very easy to visualise the implications on the rest of the stories. 

User-Story Mapping vs. Customer-Journey Mapping

While user-story mapping and customer-journey mapping sound remarkably similar, there is a subtle difference in the emphasis. A customer journey map takes the perspective of the user and shows their interactions with the product and the steps taken to achieve an objective. It will also think about the user’s thoughts and experiences during this journey. 

On the other hand, a user story is mapped from the point of view of the product, as the user interacts with it. It will guide the planning of features and functionality, as the product tries to solve the user’s problems.  

Both will work very well when combined to achieve all the product goals and create and maximise customer delight. 

What Problems Does Story Mapping Solve?

Story mapping solves the problems that arise due to lack of clarity in defining the requirements and tasks. It helps teams to comprehend user needs, set priorities for tasks, and collaborate with each other effectively. It helps to keep the focus on what is important- the end goals- so that the team does not get side-tracked into doing less important tasks. Once the user stories are mapped, the final set of acceptance criteria can be drawn up, schedules can be created, and a roadmap can be outlined.

How Do You Use Story Mapping to Prioritize Roadmap Initiatives?

User story maps give all the inputs needed to create a product roadmap. All the features are listed out in detail, broken down into user stories and basic priorities are set. All that remains is to group the features that deliver maximum value in the quickest time together, and schedule releases based on the team’s capabilities.  

Here is how to go about this: 

  • Arrange the items as per priority and assign each item story points to estimate the effort required for completion. Increase efficiency by clustering items that should be built together as they have dependencies on each other. 
  • This will help to determine how much of work will fit into each release, and you can then plan releases and sprints accordingly. You could decide to go with an equal number of items per release, or regroup based on the size, complexity, or importance of items. 
  • Once your tasks are decided for each release, map them to successful outcomes. Remember, at the end of each sprint you should have a potentially shippable increment that delivers a measurable amount of product value to highlight to stakeholders. 
  • If you have a feature that is too large to be completed in one single sprint, build the bare structure first, fleshing it out in the next iteration. This way, you can quickly get the functionality out, but continue to improve on it and incorporate user feedback.  
  • Try to avoid a sprint where there is no actual value that is delivered to the end user, even though some progress has been made.

Conclusion 

Anyone who has created user stories knows that this takes time and effort, and the best results come with experience. They allow teams to see the bigger picture, keeping the user at the core of all development progress. When done the right way, user story mapping promotes meaningful collaboration, enables quicker feedback and faster deliveries, and results in creating high-quality product features that most suit customer needs. 

KnowledgeHut

KnowledgeHut

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KnowledgeHut is an outcome-focused global ed-tech company. We help organizations and professionals unlock excellence through skills development. We offer training solutions under the people and process, data science, full-stack development, cybersecurity, future technologies and digital transformation verticals.
Website : https://www.knowledgehut.com

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Why Scrum Is Lightweight; Simple To Understand; Difficult To Master?

85 percent of respondents say Scrum continues to improve quality of work life—State of Scrum 2017-2018 We have all heard companies who have adopted Scrum wax eloquent about its advantages and the benefits it brings in to business. Scrum has been adopted because it is supposed to be simple and promotes collaboration and communication. Yet, more organizations attempting the Agile/Scrum transformation often fail and end up abandoning their transformation or get stuck in a limbo. So, is the golden statement that ‘Scrum is lightweight, simple to understand, difficult to master’ true? In this blog we attempt to decipher this statement and understand how Scrum Masters can help make Scrum projects or implementations successful.Where to start?So, what makes Scrum so popular? That it is better suited to the changing market conditions of the present times is well known, but how is it able to do it?  Scrum is an adaptable, iterative framework that helps Scrum teams break down large projects into small chunks called epics and sprints. Goals are defined and timeboxed. Teams are small, self-organized and with a high degree of cross-function. A goal or functionality has to be delivered at the end of each sprint. This helps for quick feedback and gives teams the ability to adapt to changing requirements—a must in times when products have to adapt quickly to please changing user preferences.  The advantages of Scrum include:  More satisfied customers Better managed processes and happier teams Better visibility into projects Better quality products  Projects completed withing time and budget constraints Better adaptability  Motivated teams Lightweight Management ProcessScrum is a lightweight framework because it provides adaptable solutions to complex problems and helps teams and organizations generate value.Why Scrum is considered to be lightweight, easy to understand but difficult to master?Lightweight: Scrum, based on Agile values, has few elements and maximizes responsiveness to customer needs. This makes it lightweight and apt for software development in the modern world.  Easy to Understand: With just three roles, three artifacts, four ceremonies and 12 Agile values, Scrum is pretty easy to understand. Scrum is a collection of practices and concepts that teams use to build processes around. The Scrum Guide which is the Scrum bible is also easy to read and understand. The three scrum roles are: Team, Scrum Master, Product Owner The ceremonies are:  Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Retrospective and Sprint Review The three artifacts are: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Burndown chart  Difficult to Master: So, if Scrum is so easy to learn about and understand then why is that it’s difficult to actually implement and master? Let us look at this from the perspective of a Scrum Master. A Scrum Master is a critical part of the Scrum team and is in effect a microcosm of Scrum upholding the Agile values and focusing on creating a self-organizing, highly motivated and collaborative team. Scrum is a not a one-size-fits- all framework. Perhaps that is what makes it difficult to master. It has to be tailored to suit the needs of each project, team and organization. There are several factors that need to be considered before adopting Scrum. The Scrum Master’s role, similarly, needs to be learnt and there are several skills a professional must have or needs to cultivate in order to be a successful Scrum Master. The Scrum Master’s Role in a Successful Scrum Adoption:There are many Scrum teams that have started out in the right way, but soon fall by the wayside as they do not follow Scrum in principle. This is where the Scrum Master plays a very critical role in the success of the team. Despite Scrum being ‘simple to understand and difficult to master’ the Scrum Master is considered to be the expert on all things Scrum.As a coach, guide and mentor, the Scrum Master should facilitate the successful adoption of Scrum, and help others to gain mastery over Scrum principles and values.A Scrum Master must mandatorily follow certain core values and inspire the team to follow them as well. These core values that include openness, commitment, focus, courage and respect bring the team together and promote better work ethics and practices.Besides inculcating Scrum principles and values and guiding a successful adoption, a Scrum Master should also have these attributes:  An Unbiased and Open Mind:  An unbiased and open mind is key to being a good Scrum Master. As part of their portfolio, Scrum Masters have to work with different teams and team members having different personalities. Having an open mind will help the Scrum Master to not look at every team with the same lens and treat each team differently. Solutions that work for one team may not work for other teams or situations. Having an open mind will help you realise this and tweak your decisions based on teams and situations.   Transparency:  Transparency and open communication are the pillars of Scrum. As a Scrum Master your intentions should be open and transparent to everyone including your team and the product owner. The team must at all times know your reasons for doing certain things or taking certain decisions. Being upfront with the team members will help in trust building and lead to better work ethics.   Metrics to Map Progress:There are several tools available to track a team’s progress and the Scrum Master must ensure that these metrics showing the team’s progress be made available to the entire team. This will help the team better plan sprints, work collaboratively and improve working practices in order to ensure better output and value.   Motivation for Team Members: Keeping your team members happy and motivated is a Scrum Master’s main job. This includes removing obstacles that may impede the team from performing and helping them work according to Scrum values and techniques. The development team develops the product, and a happy team means a well-built product and satisfied customers. Assistance to the Product Owner:  As a Scrum Master, aiding the Product Owner is a major part of your responsibility. The Product Owner is a major stakeholder in the Scrum team and the Scrum Master aids the product owner in backlog management and by facilitating Scrum events, product planning and by helping the team to identify backlog items. Aiding the Product Owner in issues that they may face with regards to the project, stakeholders or the team will create a positive environment and will make things between the team and the product owner smoother.   Focus on the Challenges: Every Scrum project comes with its set of issues. But an effective Scrum Master will be aware of every challenge or impediment that comes in the way of the development team and takes these problems head on. Focusing on these challenges early on and resolving them is paramount to the success and progress of the team and the project. Appreciation for Achievements:  The focus of daily sprints and retrospectives is often to celebrate achievements and give the development team proper appreciation. A Scrum Master encourages and motivates and this they also do by respective current achievements. While giving advise on how things should be done is necessary, appreciating the team on its achievements is equally important.   Respect for Others: Your team members all have different personalities and each brings their own uniqueness and expertise to the team. No one team member is less or more important than the other. An effective and efficient Scrum Master will recognise this early on and treat every team member with the same amount of respect.  Understanding of Situations in the Right Context:  Not all things are as what they appear. The sooner a scrum master understands this, the better. Situations in context to teams, individuals and even the organization are not always black and white and the Scrum Master must consider the baggage of organizational culture, current systems, internal politics, etc before coming to a conclusion about a team or a team members. Instead, one must attempt to form close relationships with the team and understand the workings of the team and the organizations before passing judgement. Ability to Have Tough Conversations :  You as a Scrum Master are often seen as a problem solver, friend and mentor. But don’t let this image of yours come in the way of making tough decisions or having tough conversations. As a Scrum Master you must have the courage to do the right thing and if this means having difficult but necessary conversations with either the team members, the product owner or the stakeholders, then you must do it.    Courage to Protect the Team:  More often than not, there are unreasonable demands made on the development team. The Scrum Master should have the courage to protect the team and say an emphatic ‘no’ to the Product Owner or the stakeholders.  Accountability: You are accountable for your team’s success as you are for its failures. If as a Scrum Master you want your team to be accountable then the best way to get them to do that is to be accountable yourself. You can do this by being more invested in the day-to-day activities of the team and considering yourself to be a part of the team as well.  Support for Team Members: As a Scrum Master you are not just invested in the project but also in the growth of individual team members. You should motivate, encourage and support your team members to grow and reach heights in their careers.   Deep Commitment: If the team feels that the Scrum Master is committed to the project, committed to the team and committed to the team members, then they are more likely to be open and transparent with the Scrum Master. This trust with the team has to be built so that team members can be open about the challenges they face. The Scrum Master is the voice of the team and must support them at all stages.   Focus on Improvement:  Scrum is all about continuous improvement and the success of the Scrum Master is also tied to the continuous improvement of the Scrum team. If your team is getting better with time then you are doing well as a Scrum Master. From daily sprints to retrospectives, the Scrum Master provides avenues for the team to improve itself, identify problems and suggest solutions to work better.  Conclusion Scrum is the most used Agile framework, yet there are several lessons that organizations need to learn about Scrum before they embark on a transformation journey. This lightweight and easy to use framework can turn around the fortunes of companies if implemented in the right way. It’s important for an organization’s culture to be ready to accept and implement Scrum for project and organizational success.  
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Why Scrum Is Lightweight; Simple To Understand; Di...

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Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servant-Leader!

The term servant leader is synonymous with a Scrum Master. But what does it mean? The Scrum Master is a servant leader in Agile projects, but servant leadership goes far beyond Agile, and Scrum Masters serve more than just the team.In this blog we attempt to look at the Scrum Master’s role as a servant leader, what the role entails and the responsibilities of the Scrum Master beyond the team, in context to the organization. What is servant-leadership?The term servant leadership was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his article “The Servant as Leader”, in which he defined a servant leader as: The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That leader significantly differs from one who is leader first, may be due to the need to acquire power, material belonging, control and authority within the organization. Servant leadership is something very different from traditional leadership, which places the leader at the top of the hierarchy and the employees in the lower rung. Servant leadership, in a sense, is the opposite of traditional leadership, as it places the leader at the bottom of the hierarchy while employees are on the higher rungs. The leaders, in this case, are serving the people above them. Servant leadership refers to leaders who believe in serving people and the community that they are a part of, rather than accumulating power for themselves. This style of leadership emphasizes on helping subordinates better themselves, empowering employees and helping others perform to the best of their abilities.Servant leadership does not prescribe telling employees what to do, instead it helps the workforce find their sense of ownership and unlock their potential to reach their goals. Servant leadership is all about empowering others, which when consistently done can raise morale, enhance productivity and reduce employee attrition.Servant Leadership and ScrumScrum, in a way, is the very essence of servant leadership. Unlike traditional project management methodologies, it does not follow a top-down, hierarchical approach. Instead, decisions are lateral and happen with the involvement of the whole team. Scrum is the perfect approach in which to practice the concept of servant leadership. The 5 Scrum values of Openness, Respect, Commitment, Courage, and Focus, adhere to the philosophy of Servant Leadership. The Scrum Master plays a key role in the development of the product, the team and the organization. The Scrum Guide defines the servant leadership a Scrum Master’s role has to perform in context to the roles mentioned above. The Scrum Values that a Scrum Master practices have a ripple effect throughout the organization. The Scrum Master is seen as an evangelist for practicing and promoting Scrum in the enterprise.The Agile Manifesto and servant-leadershipThe Agile Manifesto states that one must value: Individuals and interactions over Process and tools Working software over Comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation Responding to change over Following a plan These again align with the values of servant leadership, which is all about putting people or employees first. The Agile Manifesto describes focusing on building projects around motivated individuals and giving them an environment of support, trust and collaboration—all characteristics of servant leadership.Who Are These Servant Leaders?The Scrum Guide defines the service provided by the Scrum Master as servant leadership. The Scrum Master selflessly provides servant leadership to the development team, product owner and the whole organization. By serving these entities, the Scrum Master can create a high performing team, a valuable product and an efficient organization that is able to meet business objectives and keep customers happy.  Though the term Scrum Master may be deceptive, the Scrum Master is not a master of the team but in fact serves the team in order to ensure smooth functioning and productivity.Servant Leadership and Scrum Master Roles of Servant LeadershipServant leadership:The day-to-day activity of a Scrum Master involves servant leadership. Servant leadership in a scrum team involves performance planning, coaching, helping the team self- organize, resolving conflicts through conflict management, removing obstacles that hinder progress and serving the team. The Scrum Master, while practicing servant leadership, helps the team grow and mature and become independent enough to make their own decisions. Servant leadership in Scrum is all about making the team self-reliant, so they can cope with the pressures of the role. As a servant leader the Scrum Master creates a high performing team, helps them become collaborative and high performing in order to achieve goals and meet the requirements of the customer.  Service to the Scrum Team: As a servant leader, the primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the development team perform. They help the team perform to the best of their abilities by giving them an environment that is conducive to work in, encouraging them, guiding them and removing obstacles that may hinder progress. As a coach, the Scrum Master will guide the team on scrum processes and help them adhere to Agile values during the development of the product. The Scrum Master is responsible for the scrum team’s effectiveness, and they work tirelessly to ensure that the team is motivated, encouraged, creative and innovative. The Scrum Master through servant leadership helps the team improve Scrum practices which helps them become more productive and generate value. The Scrum Team’s role in motivating and helping the team comes through in the daily stand-up meetings that are arranged as part of the sprint. The Scrum Master encourages team members to share their grievances and progress made through the sprint. Team members can talk about obstacles that may be hindering their work and due cognizance will be taken up by the Scrum master to ensure that these obstacles are removed.  According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Development Team by: Coaching the team in becoming self-organized and cross-functional Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value increments by removing impediments Helping the team deliver within the timeframe of the sprint Service to the Product Owner: The Scrum Master is a servant leader not just for the development team but also the Product Owner. While the Product Owner is primarily responsible for the product backlog, they cannot do this alone. The Scrum Master aids the development team and the Product Owner with effective product backlog management.The Scrum Master is involved at every stage of the product backlog grooming, helping the product owner with Scrum events, product planning and to identify backlog items along with the development team. The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner define the product vision to the team.   According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Product Owner by: Helping in Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management Helping the Scrum Team understand manage the Product Backlog items Setting up empirical product planning in complex environments and, Managing and facilitating stakeholder collaboration.Service to the Organization: The Scrum Master is a coach and motivator not just for the development team but goes beyond the team to spread the awareness of Scrum in the entire organization. Scrum Masters coach and help teams and departments understand Scrum and develop an Agile mind-set. Besides servant leadership to the team a Scrum Master is also involved in promoting the ideas and values of Scrum. An organization can get an agile mind-set only if the entire organization adopts Scrum and not just a few teams. This is where the Scrum Master comes in, helping other teams not involved with Scum to gain the Agile mind-set, through training and coaching. The Scrum Master is an Agile evangelist and promotes Scrum enterprise-wide.According to Scrum.org the Scrum Master serves the organization by: Leading, training, and coaching the organization in adopting Scrum Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization Coaching employees and stakeholders in the way Scrum works Helping stakeholders work with Scrum TeamsSome Servant-Leader Behaviours for every Scrum MasterBeing empathetic: This is the foremost personality trait required for anyone wanting to become a Scrum Master. Your empathy will shine through in your interactions with the team members and your dealings with the stakeholders. You should be able to see problems from the point of view of each party and work towards solving these problems. Caring: As a caring and empathetic Scrum Master, your team will feel free to approach you and share their concerns. Providing a listening ear will make you more approachable. You will be able to more clearly understand the impediments that are stopping project progress and work towards providing a solution.  Managing Conflicts: Not all team members will get along with each other and this can cause disruptions and problems within the team, lowering their productivity. As a Scrum Master you need to be great at conflict management, help others solve their problems, work with each other and create a high performing and harmonious team. Building relationships: You need to build a rapport with your team, the product owner and the stakeholders. This will help you communicate freely and help others approach you with their problems and issues. You need to build that relationship of trust and take everyone along on the journey of success.  Being ethical: Ethics play an important role in software development, especially since software now controls every aspect of our lives. The product created should be free of malice and fraud. The Scrum Master should guide the team in delivering the product at a value and standard that is expected and agreed upon with the stakeholder. There should not be any shortcuts or concessions made on the quality of the product delivered as this will affect not just the Scrum Master and the team’s reputation but will cause a dent in the reputation of the organization.   Conclusion  Servant leadership and the Scrum Master’s role is the backbone of Scrum. The Scrum Master as a servant leader re-emphasizes the values of Scrum and helps to enhance teamwork, collaboration, motivation and value. Under the able servant leadership of the Scrum Master, individual members and the team will grow, become more confident and help in delivering value.  
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Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servan...

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A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small teams. But the true benefits of Agile can only be reaped if Agile and Scrum are scaled at the enterprise level. However, this is easier said than done. According to statistics, 47% of Agile transformations are not successful. While this is a worrying trend, there are still hundreds of organizations who have got it right and are able to survive the competition by innovating faster, delivering value and adapting to changing markets. How are they doing it? By using scaled Scrum.There are several tools and frameworks available for scaling Scrum at the enterprise level. In this blog, we attempt to look at a few of these.  Scaling Scrum with NexusNexus is among the most popular frameworks for scaling Scrum. According to the Nexus Guide, “Nexus is a framework for developing and sustaining scaled product delivery initiatives. It builds upon Scrum, extending it only where absolutely necessary to minimize and manage dependencies between multiple Scrum Teams while promoting empiricism and the Scrum Values.” How is Nexus different from Scrum? Scrum defines three primary roles: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the development team. These three roles work together in one team.The Nexus framework consists of several Scrum teams that work together toward a common product goal and defines the Nexus Integration Team as an additional accountability.  Nexus helps to build on the values of Scrum and also solves the collaboration and dependency challenges that tend to occur between teams in Scrum.Benefits of using Nexus Nexus extends Scrum in the following ways:  Accountabilities: Nexus introduces the Nexus Integration Team, which consists of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and members. This team is accountable for delivering a workable product at the end of each sprint.  Events: Nexus events aim to add to or supplement Scrum events and serve not just individual teams but also the Nexus Integration Team. The objective of a sprint is to achieve the Nexus sprint goal. Artifacts: Although the teams are different, within the Nexus framework they all work towards a single goal and follow a single product backlog. There’s a high amount of transparency and work is allocated to each team. The Nexus Integration TeamAccording to the Nexus Guide, “the Nexus Integration Team exists to coordinate, coach, and supervise the application of Nexus and the operation of Scrum so the best outcomes are derived.” The Nexus Integration Team or NIT comprises of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and Nexus integration team members. There are generally three to nine Scrum teams working together in Nexus. All of them follow a single product backlog and work towards delivering a single product. The Nexus Integration Team forms an essential role within Nexus and is tasked with providing transparent accountability among the teams in Nexus.Product OwnerThe Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the product value and the work carried out in Nexus. Their primary task is to order and refine the product backlog. Being a member of the Nexus Integration Team, the product owner will work with all the Scrum teams in the Nexus Integration team. The product owner and the teams work towards better defining and refining the product backlog.Scrum MasterJust like in regular Scrum, the Scrum Master in the Nexus Integration Team is also responsible for ensuring that the Nexus framework is understood by everyone on the team as prescribed by the Nexus Guide.   MembersThe members of the Nexus Integration Team are the Scrum team members who aid the Scrum teams in adoption of tools and practices that will help the team and members deliver value at the end of each sprint that meets the definition of done. Nexus Integration Team membership should be considered more important than the individual Scrum Team membership and members should work towards first fulfilling their Nexus team responsibilities.What are the Events in Nexus?Nexus adds or augments the events as defined by Scrum. The Nexus event durations are like Scrum event durations and are guided by the Scrum Guide.  Nexus events consist of: Sprint- A Nexus sprint is the same as in Scrum, at the end of which a single increment is delivered.  Cross team refinement- The aim of Nexus is to enhance collaboration and reduce cross team dependencies. Cross team refinement helps to make dependencies and responsibilities more transparent. This makes it easier for Scrum teams within the Nexus to clearly identify and deliver their allocated tasks.  Nexus Sprint Planning- Nexus sprint planning will involve the participation of the Product Owner and concerned teams' members from each team. The purpose of the Nexus Sprint Planning is to assign and co-ordinate activities for a single sprint.  Nexus Daily Scrum- This is like the daily stand up in Scrum. Nexus daily scrum is used to identify any issues and track progress. Any issues are immediately prioritized and solved so that they do not hinder the work of the developers.  Nexus Sprint Review- This event is held at the end of sprints to provide feedback on the increment that has been built and on any future updates that have to be made. Nexus Sprint Retrospective- Like in Scrum, Nexus retrospectives are an important part of the project and are used to reflect on how quality and consistency can be improved.  Some Nexus ArtifactsNexus artifacts are the same as Scrum artifacts and when implemented correctly ensure transparency and value maximization. Every artifact is designed to give a commitment. For example, the product backlog is the artifact and its commitment is the product goal. Other artifacts and their commitments include: Nexus Sprint Backlog-Nexus Sprint Goal Integrated Increment-Definition of Done Along with Nexus, LeSS is another popular framework for scaling agile.  Scaling Scrum with LeSS The Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework is an offering from Atlassian and is a framework for scaling Scrum to multiple teams that are working on the same product. The idea behind LeSS is to start with a single Scrum team as defined in the Scrum Guide and then replicate it to multiple teams who are working on a single product. LeSS has earned the label of being “barely sufficient” as it is a simple framework to apply and uses the basic concepts of Scrum to scale.  How do Sprint Planning meetings in LeSS work?  LeSS generally carries out sprint planning in two stages. Sprint Planning One focuses on selecting items that are of topmost priority, solving unanswered issues and defining the sprint goal. The Sprint Planning Two is like the sprint plan of regular Scrum and focuses on creating a plan of action for getting things done.  Daily meeting  The daily Scrum meeting in LeSS is similar to how it is done in normal single Scrum teams and involves team members discussing the work accomplished and the work to be done during the day. It is a time-boxed meeting and helps teams address any issues that may be hindering work.   Sprint Delivery Meeting (Review) The sprint review meeting is an essential part of LeSS and helps teams and stakeholders review the product built during the sprint and suggest changes and new ideas.   Retrospective The retrospective for LeSS is similar to one team Scrum. These retrospectives held at the end of the sprint will help teams to reflect on the progress of tasks, and identify the obstacles that may hinder or impede the overall project.  Let’s take a look at some of the other frameworks that are used for scaling agile. Scaling Scrum with SAFe®The Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe in short, follows the principles of lean and agile and helps in scaling Scrum to the enterprise. It helps to manage alignment, collaboration, and delivery from multiple agile teams to ensure enterprise success. It systematically focuses on applying Scrum at each level of the enterprise, to maximize value and ensure a successful agile transformation.A successful SAFe adoption ensures end-to-end business agility with significant improvements in strategy, delivery, execution and business competencies. It helps organizations overcome competition and ensure innovative business solutions to gain customer trust and partnership. The SAFe framework is continuously improvised in order to help organizations cope with the digital age and ensure that business outcomes are delivered.Scaling Scrum with the Scrum@Scale frameworkAnother framework that allows organizations to implement Scrum at scale is the Scrum@Scale framework. This framework expands on the core principles of Scrum and helps to scale Scrum over a wide range of industries and sectors, ensuring customer satisfaction and creation of successful products. It promotes communication across all teams and departments, and optimizes resources, removes roadblocks and ensures creation of innovative products.A Final Word By driving Agile at the organizational level, companies can gain all the benefits of team-level Scrum at scale. More often than not the principles of team level Scrum are not sustainable at the enterprise level and the transformation fails. Tested and proven Agile scaling frameworks are now able to turn this around, and help organizations scale up the principles and practices of Scrum to become more adaptable, flexible and responsive. Professionals can master these frameworks and help their organization adopt the culture, mind-set and principles of Scrum and agile.  
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A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small tea... Read More