Story Mapping and/vs Process Maps

by Shrikant Vashishtha

One of the key philosophies of Agile software development is to have information radiators visible on the wall so that the progress of the team as well as what team currently is working on gets clearly visible to anybody who visits to the team area. That includes stakeholders, project managers, team or anybody from the organisation.

However, haven’t you observed that many times, as you look at the card-wall (Scrum Board), things are not very clear to you. Card wall may look like the mesh of user-stories with statuses in To Do, In Progress or Done. However some of the bigger questions are not clearly answered by just looking at user-stories.

For instance:

  • What part of business process, team is working on in the current iteration? The whole business flow may contain multiple user-stories and epics. By just looking at the card-wall, business flow itself may not be clear.
  • How much solutioning is done for a business flow and how much is remaining?

Agile Cardwall

How about having a pictorial view of whole business flow as a process-map, identifying the user-stories (work to be done) in it? Take a look at a process flow below and you find some numbers mentioned on it. They are user-story ids.

process-map

If you take a closer look, you will find that some of the user-stories like story 2 are common to multiple business flows.

By looking at process map you find some immediate answers:

  • What all user stories need to be implemented for a particular business flow.
  • What all business flows are impacted by a user-story? For instance in above process map, user-story 2 impacts two different business flows.
  • Where are we in the implementation of a particular business flow? In above process-map some user-stories are colored with Green which indicates they are DONE.
  • Along with above mentioned benefits, process flows provide a shared and common place to have conversation on business flow within team and with Product Owner and stakeholders.

While looking at process maps, I realized that Story Mapping concept coined by Jeff Petton deals with similar issues.

Let me provide a brief overview of story-mapping.

The idea of story-mapping is to groom Product Backlog in such a way that you have “big stories” (termed as “user activities”, epics or features also) at the top of map. These big stories are divided further into user tasks (something that someone does to reach a goal).

For example for an email system I might have an activity such as “managing email” which then can further broken down in user-tasks or smaller user-stories like “send message,” “read message”, “delete message” etc.

IMAG0144

Big stories are captured on the top in horizontal fashion and smaller stories are captured underneath of each big stories.

Story maps are great information radiators. However they may require big space to capture stories of entire release. Also story-mapping doesn’t necessarily provide information on the linkage between stories or how those epics/user-stories are orchestrated together to reach a business goal. For instance at what place of the process, a particular epic is applicable and why. It’s obvious from email example as everybody knows about it anyway. However it may be difficult to decipher for domain specific user-stories.

Process maps help in solving these issues. Instead of having all stories on board, you instead put a big poster of process map embedding the user-story identifiers in it. Process-map in itself is also a narrative and helps people to come on the same page.

Though based on above discussion, it may look like that process maps and story maps are completely different concepts to solve the same problem but they are not. They are tools to bring more clarity on the board. Depending on the context, they can be used to complement each other. I personally have used process maps to come up with story maps. Eventually the combination of both looks like following which is great as you have narrative of business process and at the same time you know the functional chunks/features/epics and user-stories of the solution with story maps.

Please note that above picture is just a representation of how process-map and story-map looks together. You don’t need to go to the details of which process-map step maps to which story as that’s not the intention of this image.

About Shrikant Vashishtha


ShriKant Vashishtha is an enterprise Agile Coach, IT strategist, trainer, thinker and hands-on geek. He is passionate towards enterprise Agile transformation, quality aspect of software development including TDD, refactoring, Continuous Delivery, DevOps and Test Automation. He can be reached at vashishtha_sk@yahoo.com.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Collin Lyons February 12, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Hi Avienaash. I was just thinking recently how little is discussed in the Agile community about how to manage requirements. Although there are many aspects to requirements management, the visualisation, especially in a structured way, is very important to understanding what’s happening on the project as you’ve explained here. Nice post!
Collin Lyons recently posted..The Full Package: Inspirational Lean & Agile Training in a Beautiful Lakeside Cottage

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Shrikant Vashishtha February 13, 2013 at 4:23 am

@Collin. Thanks for your response. One small correction. It’s written by me (ShriKant Vashishtha). I recently started writing on agilebuddha.com along with Avienaash.

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Malcolm February 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Nice post Shrikant. I haven’t heard if story maps before and it seems like a good way to help with getting cards “ready to play”. One of the areas that I have seen we have struggle with is on breaking done the requirements and planning it for you’re releases. Going to pick your brain at work.

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Florian February 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Hi Shrikant,
in my current project we implement a business process as well – and we described our requirements as a Story Map. Each BPM activity is related to an Epic – in this way we visualized the entire big picture. To create and share this picture with the team over different sites we used the JIRA plug in ‘Agile Story Map’ here you can find a simple demo: http://bauer-information-technology.com/storymap/demo/

cheers,
Florian

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Brad Kriel February 19, 2013 at 1:44 am

Great post, Shrikant. It’s very descriptive and down-to-earth. I especially like the illustrations. One way our team has married user stories to the business flow is providing a little more info on the story cards themselves. For instance, for each iteration, we combine user stories into categories and then put the category ID on each card. We also put the high-level components (like the “activities” in your email client example) on each card. I really like your business process map, though. I may just use it for our next iteration.

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Marcel Fleming February 22, 2013 at 6:40 am

Very Nice Post! And it came in a great moment for me. Thank you for the insight.

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John Peltier February 24, 2013 at 1:15 am

I like the story map concept particularly for pre-v1 releases, where you’re trying to describe the entire capabilities of something that doesn’t yet exist. It also helps to visualize where the cutoff is between releases.

I may have to try the business process map next time I’m building a new product, it seems useful at least as a way to generate user stories.

Nice post!
John Peltier recently posted..Growth Hacking is Simply Advanced Product Management

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Andrew July 30, 2013 at 2:48 am

Thanks for great post! Makes a lot of sense!

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Bryan December 29, 2013 at 6:23 pm

One other dimension you could add to your story map are dependencies. One way they are displayed using recommendations from the Scaled Agile Framework is with red note cards and red string to show dependencies and to show which direction the dependency flows.

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