User Story Mapping: Process, Tips, Advantages – The Complete Guide

June 24, 2022

user story life cycle

User story mapping is a visual operation that aids product managers, and development teams define the work that will result in the best possible user experience. It aids teams in better understanding their customers and prioritizing their efforts.

The product manager and development team are typically the target audiences for user story maps. The objective is to create and organize the user stories into a flow that makes sense for both the user and the product’s business goals, valuable for clients and other stakeholders.

Teams develop a dynamic sketch of a representative user’s interactions with the product, evaluate which stages offer the most benefit for the user, and prioritize what should be built next using user story mapping. User story mapping provides an alternative to creating a flat list of backlog items or working from large requirements papers for agile organizations.

The concept of user stories, which convey needs from the perspective of user 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 stories are written in a way that captures business value and may be completed in a single development iteration by teams (usually called a sprint).

The structure for user stories — as a (kind of user), I want to (activity) to (benefit) — might be useful when considering product interactions from the user’s point of view.

User Story Mapping vs. Customer Journey Mapping

A journey map is a visual description of a user story from the customer’s point of view. A customer journey map is a set of actions or processes that a customer goes through to improve their overall experience. Typically, a trip map depicts numerous user stories.

digital user story mapping

In a journey map, mental state and emotions are aligned with the process, but they are typically not included in individual user stories. The trip map depicts the process and identifies any steps that aren’t working. It’s utilized to boost customer satisfaction and streamline processes.

User stories are written in a way that captures business value and may be completed in a single development iteration by teams (usually called a sprint)

A stakeholder need is a user story. It comprises information about a product’s or service’s role, aims, and motive. Example: As a, I need, so that. The components of the complete customer journey are examined in user stories.

Physical vs. Digital Story Mapping

Physical Story Map

Physical story maps visualize user stories to have a clear, end-to-end view of the user experience.


  • It’s simple to get started – all you’ll need is a few different colored sticky notes.
  • Everyone is welcome to contribute – there are no restrictions on licensing or editing privileges.
  • Simple to update — Adapt quickly as new ideas emerge. To indicate a change in priority, remove a card, add one, or move it up or down the list.
  • Great visualization – You can see the complete story map at once without scrolling.
  • The radiator of information – If you leave it up, the map will act as a reference point for the team as they begin development and anyone in the business who wants to view the customer path and minimum viable product (MVP).


  • It necessitates a lot of wall space, which is difficult to come by in many offices.
  • Not well adapted to remote participation — it’s difficult to follow along and contribute if everyone on the team isn’t in the same room.
  • For simpler use during Sprints, most teams will put the information gathered on the narrative map into a backlog management platform, such as JIRA.

Digital Story Maps

Digital story maps combine cutting-edge mapping technology with text, photographs, and multimedia content to generate compelling location-based stories that can be accessed from any internet-connected device with a web browser, including tablets and smartphones.


  • Allows for remote involvement — This is a fantastic option for scattered teams. Allows remote participants to participate and follow along.
  • Physical space is not required – Without a designated team area, you can get started
  • Additional story objects should be captured — Attach additional artifacts to individual cards in the story map, such as links, documents, and images.
  • Integrate with Agile and project management tools – Most paid accounts include integrations, which let you get epics, stories, and estimates from your story map into your backlog faster.
  • There are several options to choose from, and they are all free to try. Many technologies are available for free trials (StoriesOnBoard, Cardboard, Agile User Story Map JIRA plugin, Feature Map, Realtime Board).


  • Monthly license charge — To access the most beneficial features, you’ll most likely need to acquire a monthly license for one or more team members.
  • It’s recommended to have one editor at a time — it can be difficult to have numerous individuals modifying a map simultaneously.
  • Companies with tight security requirements may not be able to use the desired technology since data is stored externally.
  • It will be more difficult to remain concentrated if you join through the computer because there will be more distractions. Furthermore, because narrative mapping might take anything from a few hours to several days, it can be not easy to follow along remotely for that long.

When Is User Story Mapping Done?

Story mapping has the advantage of being able to be used at any stage of the product life cycle.

  • Are you working on an MVP? A story map is an excellent tool for determining the bare minimum capabilities required to test your concept. It will keep you from “forgetting” important aspects of the user experience otherwise that you might have ignored.
  • Are you looking for ways to make version 1.0 better? A story map may help your team have excellent talks about what will have the largest impact on your users by clearly displaying all of the various enhancements you could implement.
  • Is it becoming increasingly difficult to manage your backlog? By providing each item with some context and driving prioritization and grouping with a big-picture view, user story mapping can help you control the backlog; additionally, it might identify gaps you would not have spotted otherwise.
  • Adding a new product extension to your portfolio? A user story map will show you what you already have and what you’ll need to complete the additional feature to the same standard as your current offering.
user journey

User story mapping begins with personas, regardless of whether your product is still in development or has been in use for decades. You must know who will be using your product and what they’re attempting to accomplish. This influences everything in the future since you imagine how they’ll utilize the end product before you’ve constructed it.

As your thinking progresses, you’ll find that you’ll need to apply various personas to the same user story map because different sorts of users are attempting to accomplish different goals with your product. If your journey can’t accommodate all of them, this approach will immediately reveal the flaws in your offering in these new scenarios.

Who Should Participate

User story mapping is a combined approach that brings together cross-functional teams with the purpose of creating a product that is better tomorrow than it is now. As a result, any team whose activities will aid in the effective creation of customer value should be represented.

Because a user story 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

How to Create a User Story Map

Selecting which media to employ for creating the story map is the first step in user story mapping. It can be achieved with simple physical resources like a wall or whiteboard and sticky notes, or it can be done with several software tools to build a virtual map. For distributed teams, virtual planning may be beneficial. Teams should follow the instructions below regardless of the media:

1st: Frame the Problem

What issues does your product solve for users, or what job does it assist them in completing? In user story mapping the work that follows, taking a goal-first approach is crucial, and teams must ensure that they are mapping the customer’s goal.

acceptance criteria

Even if teams are working on improvements to an existing product, this is true. The user story format (As a [kind of user], I want to [activity] so that [benefit]) can be useful when considering product interactions from the user’s perspective.

2nd: Understand the Product’s Users

Who is your product’s intended audience? There’s a good chance there’s more than one. Different audiences will have different goals and interact with your product differently.

Starting with a set of user personas ensures that all team members have a common knowledge of the target audience and can construct stories from that perspective. It also cuts down on time spent on edge cases that aren’t relevant to your intended audience.

3rd: Map User Activities

Every user who interacts with a product will most likely engage in typical actions. The user story map’s backbone comprises these activities, also known as themes or functions. Users of an eCommerce product, for example, might want to look for things for sale, browse items by category, add items to a shopping cart, and finish a transaction.

story map begins

The tales at the top of the map will be made up of these activities, which the team will then break down into smaller user stories.

4th: Map User Stories Under Activities

The team can now flesh out the skeleton of the map by breaking down each activity or theme into smaller user stories, with the backbone in place and primary themes specified.

For example, stories like “As a shopper, I wish to update and delete products in my cart so I can change my mind before I purchase” could be found under the shopping cart activity.

5th: Flow and Prioritize

After you’ve created high-level themes and specific user stories, the next step is to prioritize them by ordering them vertically from most important to least important. After that, teams plan out how consumers move across the product, usually left to right.

product owner

Teams may want to map distinct scenarios for different categories of users if a product has multiple types of users. These steps assist teams in determining which tales are critical and which are not to provide a great product experience to the target audience(s).

6th: Identify Gaps, Dependencies, Technical Requirements, and Alternatives

The story map allows teams to anticipate possible challenges such as bottlenecks, dependencies, technological architecture, and missing knowledge and capabilities that could slow them down later.

Identifying these risks before beginning design or development work can assist teams in minimizing and mitigating them, improving usability, and developing alternate solutions.

7th: Plan Sprints and Releases

This is where groups turn a visual exercise into work that can be completed. Teams can see the work that will offer the most value in the shortest time by prioritizing stories from the top down and grouping these stories into development sprints and product releases.

sprint planning session

Teams will divide the map into horizontal “slices,” arranging tales according to priority inside each essential user activity. It’s vital to remember that this isn’t about figuring out what’s needed for a minimal viable product; rather, it’s about figuring out the most important tasks to provide a pleasurable client experience.

The Process of User Story Mapping

What’s the greatest approach to go about user story mapping? Based on the size of your team, the scope and duration of a project, and the maturity stage of the product, you can implement it in several ways.

Narrative mapping is the greatest place to start when you’ve gathered all the product requirements and established the project team. The map can be created using existing backlog(s) or as a stand-alone document.

1. Prioritize Stories and Outline MVP

There are three layers that detail a product. The best is to prioritize the most significant features and scheduled release dates. The various approaches need to be outlined before they can be used to prioritize user stories based on their importance.

agile teams

Release planning is done with tape in the case of sticky notes. All it requires is to divide the narrative blocks so that each one visually represents a release. Digital products provide many features for grouping, outlining, color-coding, and allocating notes.

2. Collect Documents and Select a Mapping Tool in the Pre-phase

Take any usable technical documentation you have for a project with you. The Product Requirement Document (PRD), standards, and evaluations will all be important to consider. You should also look at user personas created by a user experience researcher.

Then, answer this basic question: What kind of story map would you create? If you opt to write by hand, gather a chalkboard, plenty of sticky notes, felt-tip pens, markers, adhesive tape, and coffee. If you want the map to be good, make sure the digital product offers a sharing capability as part of its free/paid functionality.

3. Write User Stories

Now get into the nitty-gritty of things. User stories in a flat backlog are written like this: “As a user role, I want to act so that I could get motivation.” The format of user stories gives enough detail when discussing different features. As a result, you can use this format in your map or simplify it to a tech task format, such as adding drag and drop to submit a file.

 team working on existing stories

The traditional framework of a user narrative is not required because you already arrange stories across epics with designated user personas. The number of stories and their details will vary depending on where you are in the project planning process. Keep the attention on MVP (or Minimum Viable Product), at the very least.

4. Arrange User Stories That Are Left Behind

You will almost certainly come up with some new ideas during the debate. Typically, prioritization techniques include a separate category for nice-to-have stories. As a result, don’t overlook them.

A thrash section is another key component that you should include. Thrash may sound cruel, but it’s a place where you may store unneeded stories. It’s possible that the significance of this section isn’t immediately apparent. However, as the product matures, you should expect a shift in priority or the addition of additional requirements.

So, to retrieve this info when needed, keep everything structured and transparent. After the releases are set, you’ll need to update the map’s information to keep it up to date with the project’s current status.

5. For Story Mapping, Appoint the Meeting and Onboard Participants

When you’ve accounted for all of the attendees and have completed all of the practical preparations, it’s time to tell the members what you’re going to do. Begin with a warm-up by simply conversing with individuals for a few minutes.

It’s critical to make everyone in a meeting feel at ease so they can participate in the discussion and express their ideas. Explain how a story map works and what you want from participants after that.

The major purpose here is to explain the objectives and ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page. After that, you should explain the map’s structure:

  • Explain what each color implies if you’re using color-coding. Does it specify the item’s type or priority?
  • Explain to the members how things should be arranged on the map.
  • Additional alternatives, such as the thoughts or nice-to-have area, should be explained.

A thrash section is another key component that you should include. Thrash may sound cruel, but it’s a place where you may store unneeded stories.

Although the meeting’s leader may be the one to write the information on sticky notes, any member can do so independently. As a result, each participant should be aware of the rules.

6. Conduct the Workshop

After giving all the necessary details, you’ll start working on the actual map. The map’s creation begins with creating user activities based on user personas. Epics are used to organize user activity. So it will be the foundation of your future offering, the steps that a user can take to identify your goods.

post it notes at the wall

Consider a user persona description while composing epics, as it will provide crucial information on how to build the epic precisely. Then, in the epic’s action frame, divide them down into tasks that a user can do. User activities should not be confused with user stories; they should define a step in the process rather than a feature.

7. Select Members of a Story Mapping Team

Before you begin, make a list of the people you’ll be working with to create your map. Story mapping takes the form of a workshop in which all essential personnel from all departments participate. The outcome of this phase should be a clear list of those who will take part.

Only those who can make judgments and participate actively in the conversation should be considered. Here’s a clue: A maximum of ten people can attend the workshop. You won’t be able to provide each member enough time as the team grows larger. The fewer people you select, the easier it will be to start a conversation among them.

8. Implement User Personas

User personas supplied by the UX or marketing departments will serve as the foundation for your map. You won’t be able to understand the product’s epics unless you know who your users are, and you’ll miss the whole idea of story mapping. You can define who will conduct particular tasks in the system by using user personas or talking to UX staff.

What Happens After the Completion of User Story Mapping?

If teams haven’t previously done so, they’ll need to arrange their prioritized story outline into sprints and releases at the end of a user story mapping process. To ensure that the product roadmap is agreed upon, the product team may want to share or evaluate the user story map with teams that did not participate, including leadership. Any teams contributing work to the future Sprints or releases not represented in the mapping exercise must do so.

user's journey

User story mapping artifacts will most likely be transferred into a shared software engineering platform by-product and development teams. Engineering teams may need to add technical requirements and acceptance criteria to guarantee that any work delivers the user value established in the narrative mapping exercise.

The user story map does not have to be static. It can be updated with research spike findings, amended estimations, and user feedback from Sprints and releases. The story map can also serve as a visual roadmap for communicating planned and unfinished activities.

Finally, teams performing user story mapping should utilize each exercise as an opportunity to become closer to customers and build their empathy for what they’re trying to accomplish.

Benefits of User Story Mapping

The following are some ways that narrative mapping aids teams in improving their processes to develop products that users would appreciate.

1. Focuses on User Value

When a product team develops a user story map, they visualize the product from the user’s point of view. The story map they’ve created will help them determine how consumers interact with the product and which efforts will provide the best outcomes. As a result, product roadmap planning must occur from the outside in.

2. Prioritizes the Right Work

Creating a comprehensive depiction of all the work required to offer a complete product experience can assist teams in determining what is most important, organizing work into releases (the delivery of a new customer experience), and de-prioritizing work that has lesser user value.

3. Drives Clear, Well-Sized Requirements

Many teams struggle to come up with engaging user stories and requirements. By illustrating how large chunks of work are broken down into smaller ones and displaying how work items connect, user narrative mapping can help.

4. Delivers New Value Early and Often

Teams can use user story mapping to organize their work into iterations and releases based on its importance to users.

sprint planning session

Working on the most vital things first allows teams to give the greatest value to customers faster, receive early feedback from customers, and quickly determine which product enhancements will be the most helpful.

5. Exposes Risks and Dependencies

Creating a story map of how customers interact with a product can provide teams with a holistic picture of the product, allowing them to see any roadblocks, risks, and dependencies that must be addressed to deliver the product effectively.

6. Builds Team Consensus

Creating a user narrative map allows teams to share a common understanding of the customer experience and the work needed to improve it. The project promotes discussions that result in a shared understanding of what to create when to build it, and why.

What Are Some of the Difficulties in User Story Mapping?

User story mapping can help teams move quickly and produce products that consumers enjoy, but it can also lead to unsatisfactory results if teams aren’t prepared. These are some of the difficulties to be aware of:

No Clear Customer

It’s tough to figure out how a customer feels about a product if you don’t know who they are. You need to identify who you’re mapping tales for.

No Clear Problem

The entire effort of user story mapping can backfire if you don’t know what problem your solution solves for clients. Building out stories towards the wrong customer goal can be a waste of time and money in the exercise itself and the sprints and releases based on it.

Limited Utility

It’s tough to maintain physical story maps built from sticky notes on a whiteboard up to date. Iterations and releases are shipped without updates because sticky notes come off, whiteboards are cleaned, and the work is lost, or iterations and releases are shipped without updates to the board. Furthermore, story maps created in a single physical location do not benefit teams working in other locations who are unable to see them.

Re-Work and Redundancy

For development teams to begin working on stories from a user story map, they often need to be replicated in a flat backlog, such as a software engineering tool. As a result, this activity may give the impression that teams are repeating themselves.

Conclusion: How User Story Mapping Improves Your Business

Story mapping provides a way to accomplish various goals that product managers frequently face. You may communicate big-picture aims and objectives to your coworkers without “lecturing” them. You may foster a collaborative environment where everyone is involved in product development. You can use possible ideas and thoughts that would otherwise go unnoticed. Before your team creates a single line of code, you may achieve consensus and a shared understanding of the goals.

team discussing users flow

On the other hand, story mapping isn’t quick—after all, you’re mapping every user story—and you’ll need the correct physical area to achieve it. You may need to persuade upper management that this is a better use of everyone’s time than their regularly planned programs.

However, if your product doesn’t assist clients in completing their journey, they’ll go somewhere else or cancel it entirely. A story map brings everyone on board with the same goal and produces a context-rich environment where it’s clear where resources should be allocated.

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