Story Mapping For Beginners: A Step-By-Step Guide

June 27, 2022

story mapping

User stories are ordered along with two separate aspects in story mapping. The “map” plots user activities along the horizontal axis in the order in which they would complete the assignment. User stories are organized down the vertical axis by priority and increasing implementation sophistication.

User story mapping is a visible activity that aids product managers and development teams define the specific tasks that will result in the best possible user experience. User story maps aid teams in better understanding their customers and prioritizing their efforts.

story mapping

Teams develop a dynamic sketch of a representative user’s interactions with the digital product, evaluate which stages offer the most benefit for the user activities, and prioritize what should be built next using user story mapping.

User story maps provide alternatives to creating a flat list of backlog items or working from large requirements papers for agile teams. The concept of user stories, which convey needs from the user’s perspective value, is used in user story mapping to validate and build a shared understanding of the processes of creating a digital product that consumers love.

User story mapping is a visible activity that aids product managers and development teams define the specific tasks that will result in the best possible user experience.

They are written in a way that captures business value and may be completed in a single development iteration by agile teams (usually called a sprint). However, in this step-by-step guide, this blog post will teach you how to create an effective story map that will help you plan and organize your digital product.

Anatomy of a User Story Map

An agile team’s product backlog is guided by a user story map, a collaborative activity. The story map depicts a customer’s interaction with the product, including the activities and tasks they complete. Creating the story map as a group guarantees that team members are on the same page from the beginning of development to the continual delivery of new releases.

1. Backbone

A backbone provides the structure. The user narrative map’s backbone captures the high-level activities a user will perform while using the product. Buying and watching a movie on an Apple TV, for example, may involve the following activities:

  • Select movie
  • Purchase movie
  • Watch movie
  • Review / recommend a movie

2. Chronological Order

Once you’ve defined the backbone’s activities, you’ll arrange them in the sequence where a user will engage with the product. As the debate progresses, it’s typical to reshuffle existing activities or adds new ones.

woman fixing chronological order of story map

This is a major benefit of using a collaborative approach to create the product backlog since you may draw on the entire team’s expertise.

3. Stories

You construct user stories beneath each activity on the backbone to flesh out the client experience. For instance, beneath the select movie’ action, you may find content for:

  • free-text search
  • browse by genre
  • browse by a recent addition
  • browse by most popular
  • browse by most popular genre
  • browse by recent addition by genre

The user’s perceived value ranks these stories. Conversations with users, analytics on usage trends, or another type of insight fit for your product can all be used to determine value.

4. Sequence

It’s time to sequence the work after the team has the backbone and stories. What are your long-term goals for the MVP, 1.0, 2.0, and so on? The product manager frequently begins a sprint planning meeting by reviewing the story map to ensure that everyone on the team is still on the same page.

When to Use Story Mapping

The benefit of story mapping is that it may be employed at any stage of the product life cycle.

  • Are you working on a minimum viable product (MVP)? A story map is a great way to figure out the absolute minimum capabilities for testing your concept. User story mapping will prevent you from “forgetting” essential components of the user experience that you may have overlooked otherwise.
  • Are you attempting to think of ways to improve version 1.0? By clearly illustrating the numerous upgrades you could apply, a story map can help your team have fantastic discussions about what will most impact your users.
woman arranging user stories
  • Is it becoming more difficult to keep track of your backlog? Story mapping can help you handle the backlog by providing context for each item, driving prioritization, and grouping with a big-picture view. User story mapping may also expose gaps you would not have noticed otherwise.
  • Are you expanding your product line with a new product extension? A story map will show you what you already have and what you’ll need to finish the new features to the same high standard as the rest of your product.

Story mapping starts with personas, whether your product is still in development or an existing product. You must know who will use your product and what they hope to achieve. This impacts the future since you imagine how they’ll use the finished product before building it.

As your thinking advances, you’ll discover that you’ll need to apply different personas to the same story map since different types of users are trying to achieve different goals with your product. This strategy will immediately show the weaknesses in your offering in these new scenarios if your journey can’t support all of them.

Who Should Participate in User Story Mapping

User story mapping is a joint approach that brings together cross-functional teams to create a product that is better tomorrow than it is. As a result, any team whose activities will aid in effectively creating customer value should be represented.

Because a user narrative map gives a holistic perspective of the product, members of any team responsible for architecting the entire product experience should be included. In a user story mapping exercise, these groups are frequently represented:

  • Engineering
  • UX / design
  • Product management
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Customer support
  • Ops / IT
  • Finance
  • Legal

User Story Mapping vs. Customer Journey Mapping

Although a journey map and a user story map contain some of the same components, they are employed at different project stages. A story map is used for planning and implementation, but a journey map is used to assess features from the perspective of the user, as well as to uncover and understand the user’s needs.

physical story map

User story mapping and journey mapping are excellent partners. The path mapping approach pushes you to consider your users’ overall behaviours. It’s simple to develop a shared understanding of their personas and needs.

Story mapping will help you implement user journeys into your program and prioritize which features come first by giving developers and project managers a better picture of actionable things.

What Is an Epic vs. Story?

Large user stories are referred to as epics. This indicates that creating an epic is more expensive than creating a user story mapping. Teams often go through a more thorough process of defining, validating, and rolling them out than individual user stories because the investment is bigger.

While user stories are normally added directly to the product backlog, epics are usually added to the backlog after going via a product roadmap or a discovery board. The team works on breaking down the epic into smaller bits, such as user stories while they are living there (and tasks and sub-tasks).

team working on initial story map

Because epics are so huge in scope and complexity, they frequently take the shape of a small project.

As a result, most epics require more pre-planning and preparation; meetings must be arranged, duties must be allocated, and the results must be assessed to determine what worked and what did not.

The Differences Between Epics and User Stories

You work for a fintech startup as a product manager or project owner (ideally, the PM and PO are the same people). You’re continuously conversing with consumers to uncover new opportunities and constantly discover new opportunities.

During your opportunity discovery, you notice an intriguing problem many property purchasers face: individuals believe that getting an overview of mortgage providers and their services is difficult and stressful.

working on smaller user story

Determining which bank offers the best mortgage rates and terms is time-consuming and difficult for those buying homes. Many people would find this stressful, unsure if they made the right choice after choosing a bank.

Example: As a home buyer, You want to acquire a good overview of all mortgage rates and terms so that you can make an informed decision on which bank to borrow from in less time and with fewer second thoughts.

First, let us pause to appreciate this fantastic user story mapping.

  • It’s established on what real users have told you (i.e., it’s truly a user story), and
  • It specifies the type of person from whom we’ve heard the story, their goal, and why this would benefit them.

Is it, nevertheless, a user story mapping? Is it possible to include this in the next sprint and anticipate completing it? Almost certainly not.

Albeit with a narrower focus, to gain a better understanding of the problem space, generate ideas for potential solutions, create mockups and wireframes, solicit feedback from end-users, break it down into smaller pieces, and move forward once you are confident that you are solving a real problem with a valuable solution.

Of course, these elements can apply to a user story mapping. On the other hand, most teams spend far less time validating and testing individual stories than epics. The technological solution that meets a user story is, in most situations, far easier to flesh out than an epic’s.

You’ve got your high-level user story, which you’ve decided to classify as an epic because you expect it to be enormous. Now it’s time to define, improve, and possibly develop it. This is when using an epic template and crafting a PRD comes in handy. A good epic template will lead you through these stages and record your dialogues.

It will help you with project management (coordination with stakeholders, designers, and developers) and direct you toward the most outcome-oriented solution. One of the crucial product management abilities is getting this right.

The Flat Backlog vs. User Story Mapping

The flat product backlog is one of the most frequent approaches in agile software development. You’ve all seen them, you’ve all had a part in them, and you’ve all eventually drowned in them.

In its most basic form, a flat backlog product backlog is a laundry list of things to do’ that will eventually bring value to the client. These actionable tasks are prioritized (from top to bottom) to deliver value. If a team uses Scrum, the backlog is divided into future sprints to estimate what will be delivered and when.

man working on user story format

The list of things to do could be 10, 100, or 1,000 actionable items, depending on the size and needs of the company. It’s simple to understand how updating, allocating, grooming, and scheduling these items would be difficult to manage.

The thing to be done is still displayed on the story map; the difference is how this information is represented. As you can see, rather than listing these objects separately, each is placed inside a larger work’s context. The main difference between a flat product backlog and a user story map, aside from how the information is visualized, is the emphasis on the customer journey.

What a User Story Map Achieves That a Flat Product Backlog Can’t

Focus on desired customer outcomes: By visualizing the user journey, teams can discover and implement different features based on user feedback and track progress against a story map at a glance.

  • Activate the customer journey: Teams now have a better grasp of their user journey and what their customers want and value, thanks to changing the flat product backlog to a customer-centric story map.
  • Prioritizing actions based on customer value: The customer journey can be visualized to help teams prioritize work based on “value to the customer,” resulting in better outcomes and less waste.

The Problem With a Flat Backlog

Anyone who has worked with software understands how complicated these vital systems can become. Even with a simple application, keeping track of all the changes and ensuring interdependencies remain intact after an update is difficult.

In a so-called user story, you put down the work to be done. This format aids in completing a task and clarifies the context of the activity. Starting with the first few user stories is usually straightforward, and the entire team knows the system’s intended functionalities.

sticky notes

It gets more difficult as the number of user stories increases, and everyone participating gradually loses sight of the entire system. This is also known as the “flat” backlog problem. It’s difficult to describe where everything goes within the system, even when the product owner still has this vision of the ultimate result.

How to Build a Story Map in 6 Steps

1. Start With the Big Boulders

Determine the main storylines or the broad user actions your software must support. They’re large stories with a lot of steps. There is no necessity for these procedures to be in any particular order or workflow. Many user actions have steps that a user will perform at various times and schedules.

arrange user stories

Make a card for each activity. Organize them in a way that the user will be able to comprehend. If someone says they’re going to do one thing and then another, put them in that sequence. If actions aren’t completed in a sequential sequence, utilize the order in which the user describes them. This will aid in relaying the application’s story to others.

2. Crack Your Boulders Open

Break each user activity’s story down into smaller tales of user tasks. Place the user tasks beneath the activity to which they pertain, and arrange them in the same sequence as the activities in a way that makes sense to the user.

3. Find the Pebbles That Got Away

With someone else at your side, walk the map from beginning to end. This could be a user, a developer, a tester, or anyone else who has an interest in the app. Talk about the different types of users who use your app and how they utilize it.

story map begins

It’s like using a rubber duck to debug your story. And it’ll undoubtedly bring to light stuff you’ve overlooked. Either because you come up with things yourself or because your friend does. Take advantage of the opportunity to annotate the story map with additional information you learn while walking the map with someone.

Opportunities a user has been waiting for and pain areas in the current system. It will help if you consider all possible scenarios and limits. Put them on a sticky note and adhere them to the appropriate card.

4. Put Your Pebbles in Line

Prioritizing the user’s activities makes no sense. Aside from activities that will not be employed regularly, it’s quite likely that some aspect of each activity will be required to make a functional whole. So, within each activity, prioritize user duties and subtasks. Also, you may not have to consider the relative priority of tasks associated with distinct hobbies.

5. Sculpt a Valuable First Boulder From Your Pebble Piles

Choose the most important tasks from each activity to produce a first version that works from beginning to end, even if it’s in a very rudimentary form. Your MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, is that.

6. Continue Sculpting

Prioritize the remaining activities to plan your following releases. It is entirely over to you to decide how you want to proceed. You can choose to highlight the most valuable tales from various user behaviours or even all.

list of tasks and to prioritize stories

You can also concentrate on a specific activity and rank all but the lowest-valued stories. And your company’s executives may wish to evaluate other factors. They are the best teams to tell what characteristics and stories create a good film.

You can modify the map to show releases as horizontal spans of stories instead of placing lines between them to indicate which ones move into following releases.

The 3 C’s in User Stories

Although user stories and use cases may sound and appear the same, there are important variations between the two. A user story mapping is more about the user’s need or demand, but a use case describes the functionality they built to meet the customer’s needs.

They’re a little more technical, describing how the built feature interacts with the rest of the system, software, or process. On the other hand, user stories are more straightforward to read and comprehend.

Ron Jeffris introduced the Card, Conversation, Confirmation paradigm for user stories in 2001 for extreme programming, claiming that user stories are key aspects of the XP “Circle of Life.” The following are the three different types of user stories.

1. Card

What is the best place to write user stories? On cards, that is. They are handwritten on index cards, and this practice aids in the concision of the user stories. The card will not carry all of the information about the requirement, nor will it contain excessive amounts of it.

Instead, the card will contain enough information to identify the requirement and assist everyone in comprehending the story. The card is a reminder of the requirement and an excellent planning tool.

index card with all the stories

It can also be used to jot down some additional information, such as the story’s priority or the associated costs. The product owner will give over the user story card to the developers after finalizing the user story mapping to be picked for the sprint.

The following is the usual format for writing the user story on the card:

As a [user type], I desire / require [objective] to achieve [justification/business value].

2. Conversation

The card is the first step in creating the user story, but the demand must be addressed, refined, and presented to the developers. The conversation is used to do this. The conversation among developers, product owners, scrum masters, and stakeholders facilitates collaboration among all parties, resulting in the shared knowledge of the need and product development.

This conversational exchange of ideas and opinions happens in stages, beginning with story estimation during release planning and continuing through the sprint planning meeting when the story is selected for implementation. While most of the talks are verbal, documentation can be utilized as backup.

3. Confirmation

Even after the most in-depth discussion, there is always some scepticism regarding the demand that must be developed. How do you move forward with the user story and ensure it matches the requirement?

This is accomplished through the user story’s third C, ‘confirmation.’ Acceptance tests are used to confirm the results. The confirmation is an acceptance criterion that captures the most important needs and allows us to evaluate the finished product to ensure it fits the requirements.

agile team

The product owner usually creates acceptance criteria, modified and extended throughout backlog refinement. The developers implement the acceptance criteria or acceptance tests. The increment based on the user story must pass the acceptance tests, indicating that the feature has been appropriately built.

After the iteration, the developers demonstrate the story’s completion by passing the acceptance criteria. This is the final confirmation. The feature built is complete and can be released if these three Cs of the user stories are completed and fulfilled.

The Advantages of User Story Mapping

If you look up the term “user story mapping,” you might think it’s a theory and technique that only your development team does. However, it can benefit every aspect of your company.

Business units ranging from sales and marketing to customer support might benefit from strategic thinking in story mapping. You will see benefits throughout your organization if your team takes the time to learn the process and create a roadmap.

The following are five benefits of user story mapping:


There are many moving components to manage at every level of an organization to run a successful corporation. User story maps allow you to keep track of all your ideas in one location.

post it notes on wall

You can help prevent situations when you forget what needs to be done by doing so. Every thought is stored and viewed as correct on a user story map. You can rectify yourself if you subsequently realize you were mistaken. This ensures that no ideas are lost and that every voice is heard.


The act of prioritizing is a direct effect of being organized. You must concentrate on and break down things that appear to be difficult. Using user story maps, you can focus effort and energy on specific areas at various periods.

Several jobs may take longer than others, or you may need to complete some before moving on. When creating a user story map, you can discuss the most important components and restructure your map accordingly.

Note which activities must be completed first, what new features must be included in the first release of the product, what features may need to be delayed until the next project, and what features may be eliminated.

You can break down larger jobs into manageable chunks by arranging release dates and assigning tasks to team members.


Managing a company is about managing people as much as managing projects. Both sides of management benefit from user story maps. You can delegate certain project elements to specific teams or individuals, just as you can with priority.

This adds another level of responsibility. The team member understands what needs to be done and may concentrate on it while providing updates throughout the project. A strong work culture necessitates a high level of accountability. User story mapping strengthens your team and fosters a sense of shared knowledge and trust.


If you can’t see the end goal, it’s tough to achieve it or move on. That is why visualizing is so important. A user story map depicts your objectives from beginning to end. A comprehensive perspective clarifies and makes the end aim more attainable. It provides a guide for completing the task at hand.

team meeting on releases based tactics

Consider your project to be a mountain. You are at the bottom of the mountain and gaze up at the entire mountain before setting out to climb.

Then you strategize how to go to the top, one step at a time. Of course, difficulties will arise and continue during the ascent. You may, however, be prepared for those obstacles if you plan.

User story mapping allows you to develop your vision from a concept to a finished product from the ground up.


The most significant benefit of all is the ability to concentrate. User story mapping allows you to concentrate on the most important aspects of your project. The end aim of your customer is what is important when building a product.

You may know how your consumer achieves their end objective by creating a user story map. This establishes your objectives for what to concentrate on. Before wasting time on anything else, focus on the essential characteristics.

group stories

User story mapping can help you no matter what function you play in your firm. Consider exploring this new technique before constructing your next product or starting your next project.

User story mapping allows you to concentrate on the most important aspects of your project.

As more companies work remotely, figuring out how to connect electronically is becoming increasingly important. Find strategies to get your entire team on board with where and why you’re going there. It’s a good concept to start with a user story map.

Conclusion: How Story Mapping Improves Your Startup Ideas

User story mapping is a straightforward concept. Build a simple model that describes your user’s story as you go through your product to discuss their experience. It turns out that this simple concept simplifies working with user stories in agile development.

development effort

It will put your users and what they’re doing with your product at the forefront of your design. That’s preferable to getting bogged down in feature debates, as is common in software development.

About the author: Joe Silk -

Joseph is a freelance writer who focuses on sharing our Startup Oasis team's abundant knowledge with the rest of the world. Our team has no secret for anything to do with Startups, SaaS software firms, technology, Web and mobile apps, IoT, UI/UX Design. View on Linkedin