Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tweaking your user story mapping efforts

I had a great day leading a business group through a user story mapping session at my current client.  Story mapping is technique that Jeff Patton has popularized for giving your product backlog some structure.  I've done a couple of these user story mapping sessions with pretty good success.  Today, we changed up a couple of things with the session and saw some good results.  Thought it might be worth a blog posting.

First, identify your high-level activities and lay them out across a wall.  We used large Post-It sheets and attached one high-level activity to each sheet.  By doing this, we could move activities and associated tasks around the room, allowing us to rearrange priorities easily.

Next, give the customer/business group five (5) minutes to come up with as many tasks as they can think of for each high-level activity.  Time-boxing the effort keeps you on a regular cadence.  Post the task Post-Its on the large Post-It sheets in no particular order.  Move from one activity to the next, spending the same amount of time on each.  Don't worry about duplicate tasks or the prioritization of the tasks.  You'll come back to these, culling and prioritizing the tasks associated with each activity.

After harvesting the tasks for each activity, go back to each activity and cull out the duplicate tasks and prioritize the tasks according to Jeff Patton's story mapping technique.  We spent 20 minutes on each activity and were able to get a backbone of tasks defined, with other non-core tasks associated with the activity.

Another technique for ensuring that high priority tasks percolate to the walking skeleton row of the story map is to give the business people sticky dots to place on the tasks that they think are core.  We had our business folks put their initials on the sticky dots so we knew who voted up the task.  The dots stand out on the story map and the business really liked using this prioritization technique.  Having the initials on the dots gives you added information regarding who is connected to what stories.

Now that the tasks are prioritized, you can walk your story mapping and talk about it with your customers/business people.  Walking the story map ensures that the ordering of the activities and tasks makes sense and nothing has been missed.  By tweaking our story mapping session today, we were able to keep everyone in the business group engaged and the conversations flowing.