The User Story Map: One Kick Ass Tool for User Story Prioritization

When it comes to prioritizing user stories, the person responsible for the prioritization often has to work behind the scenes with other Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) to determine what the priority should be.  The challenge lies in making conversations around prioritization productive amidst competing agendas, personal preferences, alliances and other forms of subjective decision making.  

So, how does one get to an order that is clear, understandable, and agreeable (hopefully) to all? A technique that works very well is the creation of a user story map.  A user story map done right will:

  • Make Work Visible: Visibility elevates the level of transparency
  • Invoke Dialog: Maps should invoke conversation and constructive debate when comparing epics and stories
  • Be Tangible or Tactile: Software is great, but "low tech" is often times better for work sessions that require a high level of collaboration. Physical maps bring people together and that's where the magic happens
  • Be Easy to Modify: Changing a map should be easy.
  • Reduce Unproductive Conversation: Maps reduce or at best, eliminate hours of endless debate typically seen in prioritization meetings.
  • Become a "Living” Artifact: The map is not a "one and done" tool, it lives on through the life of the project, with continuous updates as the needs change.
  • Invoke Creativity: Maps should unlock creative decision making within the group, thereby allowing team members to focus on what is possible, not what serves their own interests.

The technique is rather simple to implement and can be used as input into the priority of a backlog or queue.  Here are some examples from one of our happy clients:

Placing epics in a "sequential order" across the top columns

Populating columns with user stories and ordering them in a rough priority