In this episode, David Hussman walks us through creating a user story map and helps us to understand how to use story maps effectively.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • Why story maps are a powerful tool
  • How to create a user story map
  • What to do with the story map
  • How to avoid building solutions people don’t want

Show Notes

A narrative is more powerful than the written form.  Applying user stories can be a powerful approach for creating a shared understanding and gaining customer empathy.

But user stories aren’t just a pile of things to do.  There’s an underlying structure that helps you see the big picture from the customer’s point of view.

By organizing the story cards into a map, we can better understand the customer journey and identify small slices of value to deliver.

User Story Maps are an arrangement in which story cards from left to right follows people’s interaction with the system and top to bottom to decompose that interaction.

User story maps are a metaphor for a customer journey.  That means you’re taking people somewhere instead of just getting things done.


Building a User Story Map

A map is simply a collection of information with orientation.

Start your story map by understanding who you’re going to impact.  This is different from identifying the users because that mindset boxes you in and limits your thinking.

Once you identify who you’re talking about, find out more about them in the context of your project.  Work to understand what their goals are.

Next, identify a starting point.  If no one has any idea where to start, maybe you shouldn’t start.  It might be a good idea to start with an area that’s ambiguous, where you have something to learn, or with something that’s really valuable to that person.

Once you have your starting point, begin with an obvious example.  This is basically a simple use case or scenario.  Follow the obvious example with a complex one and then an example somewhere in between.

Discussing a range of examples helps you to discover the range of issues that the person may face.

At this point, walk a day in the life of this person.  Get people to stop writing stories and promote storytelling.

As you start to understand what the person does first and next using the obvious example, begin building out your story map left to right with cards on a wall or an electronic system.

Add variations and details top to bottom in your map.  Then identify other users and scenarios and add more detail top to bottom.

Build your map as a grid and you’ll begin to see paths through the map.  You’ve created a set of experiences that flow left to right and a decomposition top to bottom.

You can now find paths to go through, choose one journey.  Build a prototype or solution, and learn so we can adjust future development.  We want to create opportunities for Minimum Viable Learning.


Here’s a summary of David’s story mapping steps:

  1. Identify who you’re talking about
  2. Identify their goals
  3. Find an obvious example and begin mapping the experience left to right; include decomposition of items top to bottom
  4. Explore the map
    • Looking at more complex examples
    • Exploring what happens if someone else does it (another user)
    • Exploring what happens if something goes wrong
  5. As you find variations, continue to build your map out top to bottom
  6. Identify a customer journey through the map, build something, get feedback, and adapt future journeys


Maps produce a visualization and create a segmentation to narrow your choices while retaining the big picture.  This allows you to produce small pieces, get feedback, and apply what you’ve learned.

Listen to the full episode to hear all of David’s tips and advice for effectively using story maps.



Your Homework

When you decide to take on a user story or requirement, understand how you’ll measure the impact, not just how you’ll get it done.  Stories need to include analytics.  That helps you build less of the wrong thing by measuring the impact.


Links mentioned in this episode:

David Hussman

David Hussman

Founder, DevJam Studios

As founder of DevJam Studios, David leads a team of producers, makers and coaches working in small and large companies around the world. His DevJammers focus on using agile methods to help people and companies improve their product learning through faster deliver cycles and responsive engineering.

Along with coaching, David speaks and teaches at a wide variety of global conferences and companies. He has also contributed to several books “Managing Agile Projects” and “Agile in the Large”.

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