The larger a project is, the more daunting it can seem. Especially in the early planning stages when you’re still trying to get your head around how it can all be achieved. But this is where the phrase “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” really rings true.
The key is to break the project into smaller steps. And much like filmmakers use storyboards to break the action up into smaller pieces that can be visualised and planned, story mapping is a highly effective tool for making the planning process for large projects far more manageable.
Story mapping essentially involves visualising a product or service as a series of smaller tasks. It is a successful tool because it enables project teams to develop a clear view of end goals and checkpoints that are needed to get there.
It is a commonly used agile technique originally developed for software development. However it has proven so effective that it is now widely used across all types of organisations and teams. In addition to helping simplify the planning of complex projects, it also helps teams improve their collaborative and adaptive skills.
Before progressing onto the steps required to develop a story map, it is important to first ask a series of questions to help clarify exactly what it is you are trying to achieve with the project. This helps set your priorities and directs focus to the most important aspects of the project:
Once you are clear on the answers to these questions, it’s time to move onto the first step.
Step 1 - State The Vision
The product, service, or feature needs to have a vision that can be clearly stated. Establishing this could be as simple as answering the question - what does the product do? It’s also worth focusing on the specific user you’re developing the product or service for and what benefit they’ll get from what you’re creating.
The next layer involves exploring exactly how the customer will use the product or service so you can establish the product’s ultimate goals. A common way to do this is to develop “personas” for your various customer profiles, which helps to really flesh out this exercise. Personas are fictional characters based on your own market and user research that represent your typical or most important user types for the product or service you’re developing.
You now need to understand and lay out how the user will interact with the product and your company’s services to achieve their set goal. This set of tasks is called a user story. User stories help your developers understand how the project needs to facilitate the activities the user will make to achieve their end goal. For example, this could be - “as an online shopper, I want to be able to browse the site and have all the products related to my search display on a single page.”
As a final step when creating your story map, it’s beneficial to display the proposed design so team members can pick up on any potential disconnects between what your customers need and how the project has been designed. You want to be looking for any missing tasks or obvious gaps. One of the best ways to do this is to have someone do a walk through the full scenario while having the rest of the team note any situations where a step is missing or the behaviour flow differs from what was planned. This exercise works best when the person doing the walk through is outside the design team or has a slightly different perspective - so for example you might choose a UX designer to help you identify steps in the customer journey.
So to summarise, story mapping is a multi-step process that can be used to gain a much better “big picture” understanding of what needs to be done for a successful project. It helps create a clear vision of what your next product or service should be focused on and enables you to develop the prioritised list of tasks that need to be performed to achieve the overall vision. If you’d like to learn more about how to better plan for large or complex projects, reach out to FinXL.