The User Story Mapping Game

UserStoryMapBeing an Agile Coach & Trainer for Prowareness, I use different types of games, tools and practices every week during meetings, workshops and trainings. Some of these I’ve invented myself, but most already existed and have only been changed slightly to a format that suits me best. The upcoming period I want to share some of these games, tools and practices. I will share the what-why-how-when and what worked well and what didn’t. By sharing my experiences I hope to inspire you to give these tools and practices a try for yourself, improve it and hopefully share the perfected version in return.

What is user story mapping about?
User story mapping is a technique that allows you to add a second dimension to your backlog. The visualisation enables you to see the big picture of the Product Backlog. It gives you a good opportunity for making decisions about refining and ordering the backlog. Or as Jeff Patton, the author of the book “User Story Mapping”, puts it “a prioritised user story backlog helps to understand what to do next, but is a difficult tool for understanding what your whole system is intended to do. A user story map arranges user stories into a useful model to help understand the functionality of the system, identify holes and omissions in your backlog, and effectively plan holistic releases that deliver value to users and business with each release.”

What is the user story mapping game about?
It is an exercise that gives you the opportunity to understand the strength of story mapping. By using an everyday real life example, a product backlog is created, visualised and prioritised in less than 30 minutes.

What is the source?
The source for the concept of User Story Mapping is Jeff Patton, he also invented this game. He recently wrote the excellent book “User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product.” The picture I’ve used is created by Steve Rogalsky, his personal website¬†also contains a great description of the concept of User Story Mapping.

30 minutes in total.

How I’ve used it
It’s a game I use during every training or workshop that involves the (potential) Product Owner. Also for stakeholders it’s an interesting game because understanding the prioritisation of the backlog and creating different releases is a crucial concept to grasp when doing agile software development.

What you need

  • Sticky notes
  • Markers and pens
  • A long table

How to do this

  • Gather the group around a long table and have enough sticky notes at hand.

The game:

  • Give them the following assignment: Imagine your alarm wakes you up at 8:00 AM for work and you need to leave in 30 minutes. Write down as many different tasks (at least 30) you can think that you will do in the meantime.
  • Examples are:
    • Turning the alarm off
    • Getting out of bed
    • Turn on the shower
  • Collect all the different tasks and put them horizontally on the table sorted by time. So on the left the tasks will be related to getting out of bed and it ends with leaving the house.
  • Ask everyone to identify the tasks that can be grouped as a theme and write this down on a different coloured sticky note on top of it.
  • Round 2 starts by giving the group the challenge to select all the tasks that can be done when you have got only 15 minutes of time. Place the tasks that are still relevant one level higher.
  • In round 3 the timescale is 10 minutes and in round 4 it’s only 5 minutes.

The result

  • The result is having four horizontal rows with tasks. Basically four different releases have been created with the absolute minimal viable product on the top row.

Lessons learned

  • Visualising all the tasks on sticky notes creates a transparent overview of all the different tasks that can be thought even with a pretty much routine activity.
  • Limiting the amount of time available forces the team to set priorities and create different releases.
  • Determining the content of the releases stimulates the team to collaborate and discuss the priorities together.

Some examples of the user story mapping game in progress
When you have a large group, split the group into two teams of 5 – 7 persons and let them do this exercise simultaneously. This is what is also happening in the picture below.

I hope this blog post inspires you to give this exercise a try yourself. If so, I would really like to hear your experiences!

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