Or “What is User Story Mapping”
Or “How Do We Break Down a Big Chunk of Work”
A lot of people, while they like the simplicity of the approach of maintaining a backlog, feel like they lose context when they just have a list of user stories. Others cannot think in terms of lists but rather need something more pictorial to help them understand what is going on. One approach that I have seen useful in these contexts is the use of “User Story Mapping”.
The basic idea, made popular by Jeff Patton is pretty straight-forward. It is a top-down exercise to understand the workflow. The idea is to start with the activities a user / role needs to do to accomplish an objective / goal. Then detail out stories that represent the effort done by each user. Next, prioritize them into sprints (or whatever time horizon you are working toward). The activities can be based on larger features or epics coming into a planning session or perhaps are just something that needs to be elaborated.
What you end up with is a matrix with activities / stories on the horizontal axis (user does this, then does that, then does that) and priority in the vertical axis (this is the most important function to provide, this is the second, etc. Swim lanes identify potential delivery timescales. In other words, a visual workflow and plan combined in one. Here is an example for an online shopping type experience:
In this picture you can see blue user activities, the with stories required to support that activity in yellow underneath. You can see they have said “this is what will happen in the first increment” by creating swim lanes. These time horizons can be whatever makes sense in your situation. Perhaps a sprint by sprint view, perhaps a “Program Increment” view if working in a SAFe environment.
A couple of notes:
By way of understanding, the benefits of this approach, especially if it is done as a collaborative exercise, include: