Turning story maps around

Forget the happy path. Being pessimistic is the new black! Why we should focus on making the experience of not performing well actually enjoyable.


Creating a story map will help you get a common understanding in the development team of what the product is supposed to get done and plan incremental releases of the product.

There are many articles on how to create a story map. If you are not familiar with how to build one, you can read all about it in this article. Here’s the short version: focus on the timeline of activities and then break them down into smaller steps. This way, you can identify high level epics and formulate the stories to create the product.

A possible simplified story map for an online shop

This timeline will help you create an initial backlog. What if there was a way to get even more out of story maps? Here are some considerations on that topic.


Step one

Turn the arrow around.

Let’s look at the timeline from the outcome point of view

Step two

What do you want?

Let’s imagine we are talking about an online shop. The outcome that you probably want to achieve is selling things. Selling things means that somebody will have to receive it in the end. Focusing on the end outcome allows you to look at what is important and keeps you from straying too much.

The outcome for the customer is receiving the product

Step three

How did we get here?

Rebuild the chain of events that led to this result

Step four

Why do we care about these steps?

Because of the outcome each of theses steps triggers. In order to explore this scenario we will assume that the person knows what they want. So when they search for something — they are either going to find it or not.

Examples of reactions to the search results

Step five

What does that mean for the product?

These outcomes will trigger other steps which you need to keep in mind. So for our example: either the user is patient, hasn’t given up and goes back to the search OR they is frustrated and leaves the shop in tears.

Exploring reactions to steps

Step six

What next?

The more outcomes you identify the more steps can be defined, thus making your map better prepared for real life.


Step seven

Trim it, follow the zero/one/many-principle. With this example — when you kickoff the project you will probably not have every single product a customers might look for yet. This means you first focus on zero products available, one product available, many products available.

Example: Imagine a person searching for something and not finding it. How do we make that experience less disappointing for them, and how could we even benefit from that? They could be notified when something fitting their search is available in the shop.

Unfortunately however, people are mostly ungrateful. They might be happy to get their job done but they will not have the urge to tell it to everyone. On the other hand — if something went wrong they are more inclined to write a bad review. So how to make that experience less painful and be on good terms with customers?

Step eight

If possible — create a map for a variation of the first step. So in this example “person doesn’t know what they want”.

Feedback is very much welcomed. This is more of an early prototype and I am looking forward to adjustments to the concept.