User story map, what is it?

build the customer journey with a user story map

In a continuous improvement environment, the customer is who defined the value of a product or service.  If you are thinking about launching a new product or service, you may need to create the user story map first.  This tool will help you to visualize the customer journey.

What is a user story map?

User story mapping is a tool used in software development to identify the work that will create the best user experience.  Through the use of this tool, teams understand their customer needs better.  The structure is similar to the swim-lane chart.  It uses horizontal lanes for activities, tasks, sub-tasks, and priorities.  Each activity has a column with its duties or stories drawn below.   The example below is my version of the user story map.

user story map

Although it is a software development tool, you can use a user story map in other settings.  No product or service will be successful unless designed with the customer in mind.  A user story is a short and simple description of the product or service from the customer’s lenses.  Therefore, it is a good idea to use a user story map before you execute your plan.

Steps to create 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 

Benefits of this type of mapping

If you are a product manager or an entrepreneur, this exercise will help define the work or activities that would create a good customer experience.  While mapping the customer journey, you will have the following benefits.

  • By defining the problem that you expected to solve with your product or service, you get clear objectives.
  • Design the product or service from the customer’s lenses, which ensures the desired experience.  
  • By identifying major steps in the customer journey, you will understand better the essential tasks.
  • Another benefit is that you can organize and prioritize those tasks for better plan execution.  
  • While drawing the customer story, the team can identify challenges or roadblocks. 
  • Also, they will have the chance to see opportunities to improve.  
  • By creating the story map as a group, you are promoting teamwork and collaboration.  

Different uses for a story map

These are some examples of areas where you can use a story map.  

  • While writing an article, blog post, or book, you start with what question do you want to answer?  Tailor your writing style to your audience by knowing who they would be.  Your activities are your book chapters or article headings and sub-headings.  If you have too many headings, prioritize to decide what to include and what to left out.
  • During my years facilitating training, I found out that people learn better when you tell them a story.  Moreover, it is more effective when they can relate to the story.  For that reason, this type of map is helpful to design a successful learning experience.  With it, you can visualize the trainee’s needs and identify challenges.
  • For new product development, it is necessary to understand your users and the problem you want to solve.  There is no time for guessing the right story or workflow for your design.  
  • It works well to design a new service as well.
  • You can define and divide any project into activities, tasks, and sub-tasks.

To sum up

User story mapping is a great tool to visualize the work needed from the customer’s lenses.  Although it is known as an agile tool, it is helpful to design a product or service.  The focus of the design process is the customer, as it should be.  The story map tells the story of the customer’s problem and the activities to solve it.  In other words, it explains the customer experience.

A story map is not written in stone.  Just like standards, they are live documents that should reflect what is happening in real life.  Include all changes and additions in the map as soon as possible.   In the next blog, I will explain how to build your user story map.

Customer value, what is, and how you define it?

The journey to transform your business into a continuous improvement enterprise should start with the definition of value. The CI business management model defines the value of a product or service from the customer’s point of view. How much your product or service is worth for the customer? What are the expectations?

How you find your customer expectations?

Only the customers themselves can tell you. There are a couple of ways to get their input, talking with them, or using social media. The best time for a conversation is right after they received the product or service. Ask about their experience. What do they like? Do they have any suggestions? Listen to what they have to say and watch their demeanor. Social media accounts are another way to receive feedback from customers. Review the comments and ratings often. You can also create polls to survey their opinion.

Customer Value Definition

The information from these three different sources will give you the value definition from the customers’ point of view. Value definition is a critical piece to start your continuous improvement quest. You will use it to classify each process as value-added or non-value-added. Value-added activities are those that transform input into output or change materials or information. In other words, the customers are willing to pay for it. Everything else is non-value-added or waste.

Example of value-add activities

When you go to a restaurant, you expect to receive in a reasonable amount of time the plate you ask for. You also expect that the staff follows any special instructions like cooking the meat the way you request it. You will pay for the food and the service without hesitation. If the restaurant messed up with your plate, that is a defect. Now they have to prepare a second plate, which is overproduction. Both things are waste or non-value-added activities. I bet that you, the customer, are not willing to pay for them.

Businesses need to complete various processes that are critical for operation but do not add value to the customers. Examples of necessary non-value added activities are hiring, payroll, and month-end financials.

Customer value and your business

The entire flow from the customer order to the product or service received is drawn using a value-stream map (VSM). VSM is a special type of flow chart where you can visualize the flow of information and materials. This map is a tool that allows you to see waste and plan how to eliminate it. How to create a VSM will be the subject of a future post.

The priority of continuous improvement is to eliminate waste. Waste elimination will create faster and bigger results. Second, it is to challenge and reduce the necessary non-value-added activities. Minimize the quantity of non-value-added steps will further improve flow and reduce costs. Finally, you will work on optimizing value-added steps.