Our Complete 7-Step Guide to User Story Mapping

User story mapping is the best method to understand each step of the user journey and uncover what gets customers to come back.

The more you understand your customer’s user journey, the better you can tailor your product to fit their needs.

However, that often feels easier said than done. Many product managers still use outdated single-list product backlogs—which are just to-do lists—that don’t help PMs prioritize work according to what the customer wants.

If you want to build a product that aligns with your audience's needs and expectations, you need to get serious about user story mapping. By outlining each critical step of the user journey, you’ll have clear insights into optimizing each stage and delivering the best product experience.

What Is User Story Mapping?

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User story mapping is a strategy developed by product manager Jeff Patton that organizes different user stories and backlogs on one visual dashboard. It arranges the critical steps of the user journey horizontally in chronological order, with all user stories wrapped up under each stage.

The idea is that by designing a clear view of the customer journey from A to Z, you can identify blind spots in your backlog, understand your audience, and find better ways to engage the user at every stage of their experience. That way, you can be sure to create a product that customers love.

Top 4 Benefits of User Story Mapping During Product Development

Product managers need a better structure to prioritize their work. Here’s why user story mapping needs to be part of your brainstorming process as you’re looking for new ideas for upcoming releases:

1. Puts the Customer Experience First

User story mapping consists of outlining every step of the customer journey. You’ll also have to create buyer personas for your target audience and talk directly to users to better understand them.

Doing this forces you to think about customers’ needs, wants, expectations, and how each aspect influences their decisions during the product experience. By putting the customer experience first, you can develop ways to optimize it and retain more users.

2. Defines Clear Priorities During Product Development

Product managers have to learn how to prioritize which features and updates to develop in their roadmap. Otherwise, they risk building a product that might be fancy but doesn’t solve the challenges of their target audience.

User story maps make this process easier by framing decisions around what’s most important to the customer. From there, product managers can identify which features will make the most impact during the user journey.

3. Helps Identify Potential Roadblocks and Obstacles Ahead of Time

Product development is a bumpy road, and it’s not always simple to predict what could hold you back from achieving your goals. User story mapping helps you understand what potential hurdles will head your way, so you can set up solutions that will solve them and save yourself time.

For example, let’s say that the user is at the stage where they’re considering signing up for your software’s membership. However, they’re concerned about security issues and their data getting into the wrong hands. They feel hesitant to pull the trigger as a result.

That’s something that you can address in your user story map. To overcome this roadblock, you can add features such as two-step verification at this stage for better user protection and customer peace of mind.

4. Improves Team Communication and Collaboration

User story mapping helps create a more collaborative environment within your SaaS company. It requires the input of various team members and departments to make sure that what you’re mapping out is accurate and relevant to your target audience.

Whether it’s sales, customer service, or your engineering team, each department has unique insights into your customer’s expectations. By collaborating with everyone, you’ll become more open to new ideas and find creative strategies to optimize the product experience.

How to Get Started with User Story Mapping in 7 Steps

So, how can product managers and their teams get started with user story mapping for the first time? Here are the steps to follow with your team for an effective user story mapping process:

Step 1: Define Your Product Vision and Goals

You can’t map out your user stories effectively without knowing what your product vision and goals are. They serve as a backbone to better guide the user story mapping process. To first define your company’s product vision, ask yourself these questions:

  • What values does your company stand for? If one of your brand’s key values is affordability, for example, you need to take a hard look at anything that will cause your product’s price tag to go up.
  • What problems does your product solve for customers? Understand how your product makes life easier for your audience. You can uncover this information by asking your customers directly.
  • What’s your unique value proposition? Think about the key attributes that make your product stand out. Why would your audience choose your product over the competition?

Next, define the product goals you’re trying to achieve, along with specific numbers and a deadline to meet. Here are examples of what product goals you might have and how they can help you create better user stories:

  • Drive 40% more users to your SaaS platform within six months: To attract more users, your user stories must focus on customer pain points, what features you must build to solve them, and how you’ll market them to your audience.
  • Reduce your churn rate by 20% by the end of the quarter: Based on this goal, you can center your user stories around solving the friction that customers experience with your product.

Step 2: Choose Who Will Be Involved in Creating the User Story Map

Different members across departments will have to participate in making the user story mapping process as productive as possible. However, it’s also essential to invite the right people. The various teams that need to be present during user story mapping include:

  • Stakeholders (such as investors)
  • Engineering
  • Business analysts
  • Market researchers

An important tip is not to invite too many people from these departments during your user story mapping workshop since that will make it challenging to focus everyone’s attention and be productive. We recommend that the number of participants should hover around 8–12 people.

Step 3: Create Buyer Personas for Your Target Audience

With your team, create buyer personas for your target audience to better understand their expectations, needs, and wants. It’ll be invaluable information you can use to structure your user story map accurately. The criteria you need to take into account include:

  • Basic demographic information: This serves as a base for your buyer persona. It includes data such as age, race, gender, education, income level, etc.
  • Buying triggers: What triggers urgency in your audience and leads them to become paying customers? For example, is it after they complete their first task on your platform?
  • Challenges: What common challenges are they facing day to day? For example, if you work at a project management SaaS company, the everyday challenge of your audience could be a lack of goal clarity.

Step 4: Choose a User Story Mapping Tool

Using technology helps facilitate the user story mapping process and allows you to avoid too much manual work on your end. It also hosts everything in the cloud, making it easy for your team to collaborate and share their feedback. Some of the tools that we recommend for user story mapping include:

Step 5: Create Your User Stories

This is where the magic begins: Once you align with your team members and create your buyer personas, it’s time to write your user stories in the backlog. The key is to keep them simple and precise and to use your buyer personas to help facilitate the writing.

Need a hand creating your user stories? Here’s a simple structure you can follow to develop accurate stories that reflect the actions and desires of your audience:

  • As a [type of user], I want/need to [perform an action] so that [the intended result]

Or, for an even simpler formula, the following can work as well:

  • As a [target person], I [want to], [so that].

For example, let’s say you’re the product manager of a software solution that helps businesses deliver better email marketing campaigns. Here’s an example of what a user story might look like for you:

  • “As a marketer, I want to be able to collect all customer data so that I can make each email I send more personalized and relevant to drive more sales.”

Step 6: Dividing User Stories into Group Activities

After writing your user stories, divide them into different groups based on what they help achieve. This will make it easier for you and your team to follow each step of the user journey.

For example, things such as ID verification and adding two-step protection can all go under the group activity “account set-up.” Under “onboarding,” you could include measures such as sending a welcome email or product tour.

Something that will make it easier to structure your user stories into groups is using color-coding. Make sure to explain to your team members what each color code represents in the user journey to structure the user stories accordingly.

Step 7: Identify Solutions for Each Step of the User Journey

For each group activity that you outlined, sit down with your team to identify ways better to meet the customer’s needs at every stage. That way, you’ll engage the customer at every touchpoint in their journey.

For example, if the customer just signed up for your software but doesn't know which next steps to take, then you can make their life easier with an onboarding feature. It will guide them through the product experience and help them complete their first task within your platform.

Build a Product That Customers Will Love with User Story Mapping

User story mapping enables you to deliver a better experience for your customers by helping you understand what they value most in their user journey. Once you outline your user story map, you can use that information to create the perfect product that will boost customer lifetime value (CLV) and get users to spread the word about your software.