How to build a user story map

build a user story map to visualize the customer journey

A user story is a short and simple description of the product or service from the customer’s lenses. You can use this tool to map the primary steps in the customer journey and design the best experience.  How do you build a user story map?  First, take a look at the steps below.  After that, let’s discuss each one at a time.

Steps to build a user story map

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Understand your customers
  3. Map user activities
  4. Map user stories under user activities
  5. Rank stories from most important to least important
  6. Identify roadblocks
  7. Create your execution plan 

Before you build a user story map, understand the problem you want to fix and your customers

Before you start mapping, there are two things you need to know.  First, what is the problem you are seeking to solve?  In other words, what problem your product or service is helping your customers to overcome.   Answer this with as much level of detail as you can.  Look at the problem from the customer’s lenses.  Knowing their pain points or motivations helps to understand what has value for them.  

Identify who would be the primary user or customer.  Who is your target audience?  Likely, there will be more than one, and each will have different goals and motivations.  Also, they will have different ways of interacting with your product or service.  For that reason, it is critical to determine who is the primary audience.  Focus your design efforts with this group in mind.

What are the user activities and their stories?

User activities are broad descriptions of how the user interacts with your product or service.  In other words, they are general steps that the user follows to complete the process from beginning to end.  These activities are the backbone of the user story map.  

You can draw the map using one of the diverse options.  Examples are drawing on a whiteboard, using sticky notes, or with one of the various software tools available.  Regardless of the format, you decide to use, remember to update the map as you make changes throughout the designing or execution process.

When you build a user story map, prioritize the stories

Stories are the sequence of tasks to complete each activity.  Draw each array underneath the corresponded activity.  When you see those stories together, you will visualize the customer journey.  Stories are like a medium-level flow process map.  Sometimes it is helpful to visualize one step down in the process.  You can do that in the user story map, with sub-tasks.  However, use sub-tasks only when they help to visualize possible challenges or roadblocks. 

Once all the stories are in place, it is time to prioritize them.  Do so by ranking them vertically, leaving the most important ones at the top.  In the example below, I draw them horizontally instead of vertically.  If you choose to do it this way, remember to rank them from left to right.  Think about which one of these stories has more value for the customer.   

build a user story map

The same example but using vertical ranking would look like this.

Identify challenges and roadblocks before creating the execution plan

After prioritization, it is time to look at the customer journey flow again.  Put yourself in the place of the customer or user.  Do you see any problem?  Think of it there is a step or feature you need or most have that is not there.  Moreover, see if you can identify anything that the customer should or could have. 

Following this exercise, put your designer hat on and check for missing information or possible bottlenecks.  Identify any challenge or roadblock during execution.  That is, look for potential trouble and mitigate them by creating solutions ahead of time.

At this point, all you need to do is add the plan.  Based on priorities, budget, and other considerations, you decide how you would execute the plan.  Sometimes it makes sense to divide it into phases.  This way, you can plan for what is most important first.


User story maps are a tool that allows teams to visualize the story of the customer journey.  It is helpful to break those stories into smaller parts.  Therefore, it is easier to prioritize and identify challenges.  In other words, user story mapping help to design better products or services from the customer’s lenses.  After all, a product or service designed from the customer’s view has more chances of success.

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