How to prepare for User story mapping session — tips and tricks

User story mapping can be powerful ally in process of creating product


User story mapping is super powerful technique for backlog visualisation introduced by Jeff Patton. It allows you to see the user stories with regards to user journey and thus helps you to see the bigger picture of your product along with priorities.

I used story map first time about an year ago as a part of inception phase. We had to start with development as soon as possible (sounds familiar?) because the launch of the website was supposed to be in less than 4 months, we decided to try User story mapping in order to help us to define what will be the user journeys, goals and what to focus first on.

It took us two days to create the whole User story map, agree on priorities and roughly estimate the first release with development team. When it was over, we literally ended up laying on the tables totally exhausted but it worth it.

Since then I use User story mapping as much as possible because it proved to be very understandable way of working for all project members and stakeholders.

How to get prepared for User story mapping workshop

When I was preparing for my first users story mapping workshop I was quite unsure that it will work out. I read the book User story mapping and several articles about the topic but I was still asking myself: “What if nobody will create tasks?” or “What if they will rely on me to dictate them what to do?!” And many other questions.

If you have similar doubts and questions in your mind, here are some tips and tricks from my side how to prepare for the workshop.

1. Set up a list of participants

Write down list of participants for workshop and describe the role of each participant. Most likely you will end up with a long list of participant because everybody would like to attend or “just to observe”. I recommend to bring to workshop people from all involved departments but not more than 12 people — tough task, right? Quick hint: Ask yourself with every participant what value this person brings? If the person has no task or purpose to be there, erase the person from the list. It may sound harsh but if you would like to be super efficient and really do some work, insist on maximum number of participants and be picky.

Once I had 17 people on workshop and it was unmanageable to facilitate that amount of people, plus it happened that some people felt not needed, got bored and that's not definitely something you would like to people take out from this session — it's supposed to be to fun and collaborative!

My recommended roles for the workshop:
Product owner, Business Owner (Project sponsor), Marketing representative, UX designer, UX researcher, Development team and of course Facilitator (Scrum master).

2. Prepare detailed agenda

Plan the whole session minute by minute. It will help you to keep the control during the whole workshop. Include some “Ice breaker” to warm up the people. It will help you to wake up the people in the morning and keep their attention. I like to use some game where people introduce themselves, couple of words about their hobbies or interests and stick the photo on the wall and draw the rest of the body. People are having fun looking on others drawing on the wall.

Split the rest of the day into slots according to User story mapping guide and don't forget to include breaks. I also like to put there details of the steps for myself and also for all participants. I always send the agenda as a part of e-mail invitation couple days upfront to everybody thus people know what to expect.

Example of agenda

3. Write check list with stuff to be prepared in the room

Basic Persona template

As a part of preparation for workshop, it's important to book the right room and ensure you will have right equipment ready. Rather have more than less and then searching for something during the workshop.

I always prepare big bunch of sticky notes, enough pencils, flipchart, value matrix for prioritisation in case there will be some endless discussion above priorities and persona template on big sticky notes. Sit down with UX researcher before the session starts and create together a Persona template based on the data you have about the product. Don't limit yourself with template downloaded from internet, it does not have to suit your needs. Feel free to create your own together.

4. Align with UX designer

When I was preparing the first User story mapping workshop I was too afraid that creating the backbone (user journey) will turn into mess because nobody will start or too many people will argue. I decided to talk to UX designer about the product and workshop content. We sat up together for 1 hour and discussed about possible user flows. He created very basic flow diagram and brought it on the workshop in his head to open the discussion about the journeys. It helped us incredibly. In the end the journey looked slightly different after discussion with the rest of the people but having some small preparation upfront kicked the workshop into the right direction and triggered discussion.

5. Try out your own story map upfront.

Creating your own User story map is a great exercise in order to be prepared for questions and obstacles which may occur during the workshop, especially if you are preparing for first User story mapping workshop. You can create the map for any product or website you know or create your own product.

User story map

Read also my next post: 6 tips for facilitation User story mapping workshop and Scaling User story mapping.

If you would like to know more about User story mapping, I recommend to read book from Jeff Patton (Story mapping) which is step by step guide how to create your User story map and how to write great user stories. As a guide for workshop use Jeff Patton's pdf guide for facilitating User story mapping workshop.