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How to use a story map in Jira

I've met several teams which started using story maps in JIRA for improving the product design process. Finally they realized, it isn't just about a different way to plan, it's a better way to manage the whole dev process. Why did they reach this conclusion? Because product owners started to use story maps for managing backlogs because it was tremendously easy. The stakeholders liked it too, because it was intuitive and easy-to-understand.

If you are new to user story mapping, then I'll give you a short teaser of the method. If you're already using story maps, then jump to the next session: I've collected 5 quick wins that could be new for you.

Story maps in Jira projects

You'll easily find plenty of valuable education materials on the net, but let me summarize the story mapping method in 5 short steps. First off, user story mapping is a visual product planning method, that is originally designed for white boards or office walls. It is very intuitive so it's easy to learn for non-technical participants – and involving them delivers additional value to a design process. Thanks to online tools, the process moved to virtual white boards and can be integrated to a JIRA project.

Step 1: build the story map's backbone

User story mapping expends a lot of effort focusing on the end user, so you need to frame the problem and the users' goal(s). What are the main requirements that need to be satisfied using the product? Let's write down these goals in a narrative flow, if it's possible. For example, you're designing an online accommodation platform, where visitors can find, compare offers and book a room. Our user would find hotels, then she/he would choose one and book a room.


For better understanding the user map journey, what steps does a user take to reach the goal? The basic journey to find hotels could be the following: visit main page -» start a search -» refine results by adding filters (e.g: period) -» rearrange search results (e.g: by price). Collect all steps for each goal. The easiest way to discover the whole journey is following the narrative flow.


Step 2: come up with solutions

Now we have the product backbone, let's find out how to solve some steps. You don't need to think in features, just write down the user stories – e.g. “as a visitor I'd like to land on a clear, easy-to-understand website”. Try to write short/smart user stories from ideas, e.g. “basic landing page” or “responsive website”, etc.


All the online story mapping tools offer a description section, so you can add notes and useful thoughts to a card. Moreover it can be used when specifying user stories or tasks. If you didn't involve a brainstorming team previously, now you should definitely do so. Remember, the more participants, the more ideas. To keep the brainstorming team focused, you can restrict ideation to a single goal or step.

Step 3: prioritize user stories on the story map

You didn't need to concentrate on priority in the previous step. Now you should evaluate user stories which deliver more value or which are easy to develop. Of course, you can use your own prioritization method, or discuss it with the stakeholders. Express priority order on the story map, and place high priority cards above others. Continuing with our example: “basic landing page” ranked higher than “responsive landing page” and “highlighting promotions” has the lowest priority.


Step 4: slice the story map into Jira versions

Prioritization gave you some guidance on where to start, but it's just a half-baked solution to schedule a dev process. You need to slice the backlog horizontally into versions. Frame the Minimum Viable Product by moving cards into the first version. Check completeness by retelling the narrative flow with the user stories. For example: user enters the basic landing page -» search hotels by name -» filter offers by date -» rearrange results by price, etc... Can the user reach their goal? If the answer is yes, you don't need to add more items to the first release. The next step is to group user stories around working features and schedule the subsequent versions.


Step 5: execute

As I mentioned previously, doing the story mapping online provides robust opportunities to integrate your story map to Jira. Top-level cards can be synced as epics, and user stories remain the same in Jira after setting up the integration. According to the backlog size or the product need you can link goals to epics in mid-size projects and sync steps with epics in larger projects. In addition you can send the backlog release by release, so you can keep the JIRA project clean. Then you can break user stories into tasks in the issue tracker tool.


5 quick wins by using a story map in Jira

Story mapping isn't just about planning a product in a different way. You have proper opportunities to plan better and much more effectively with user story maps. Why am I saying this? Let me describe 5 awesome benefits of user story mapping that are missing from flat backlogs.

Find holes in the journey

Thinking about user journeys and steps widens your perspective and lets you observe the backlog from different angles. When you (and your team) see the narrative flow and the user steps, you can easily spot holes in the journey (and in the product). I wrote about a real-life mistake in the previous article. So don't forget to “give back the bank card” when designing cash machine software. :-) And that's why visualizing and retelling the journey is extremely valuable.

Involve non-technical stakeholders in the user story map

Literally, there is no learning curve to understand the story map. Customers and executives hate flat backlogs (and don't understand them), but they want to put their finger on the project. Invite them to the story map! The intuitive layout tells them the essential information about the product plan and the schedule. If you sync Jira statuses to the story map, they can easily check the progression. Moreover you can add visual aids by using annotations, colors, etc.

User story map as a sales page

A few months ago I met an agile coach, who helps software developer teams improve the communication between dev teams and customers. They started to use story maps with a Jira project, and did the brainstorming properly. They came up with the idea to collect all possible features/user stories and group them into future versions and estimated efforts and costs.

Then they presented this to the customers: “You ordered these versions, but we can develop this and this, etc...” So the user story map worked as a sales page and the customers liked it. I think it will work the same way, when a product owner tries to convince an executive.

Don't let the Jira project overwhelm

I mentioned it in a nutshell, that you don't need to push all the backlog items to the Jira project. Import user stories version by version so the Jira backlog remains clean and easy-to-read. In addition, the product owner has the ability to manage future backlog items and specify raw ideas while the dev team is executing the current release or sprint. A user story map is a comfortable place for version planning, discussing and rearranging backlog items.

Continuous product discovery on the story map

Pushing the backlog release by release to the Jira project is just a part of the agile framework. When the product is launched you should prepare for feedbacks, feature requests, etc. Collecting ideas and implementing them into the product turns the user story map into a breathing backlog. In addition it's a nice place for organizing brainstorming sessions and version planning meetings.

One of my favourite “hacks” that I've seen on story maps, was when a team used versions/releases or collecting “unprioritized ideas”, then moved them into “must have”, “should have”, “could have”, etc... These releases were used as “containers” and ideas were picked when the team planned the next version.


How to implement a story map into a Jira project


Product discovery on a story map

User story mapping is a proper solution for starting a project from scratch. So don't hesitate and go thru the steps, discussing with the customers, and brainstorming with the product team. Moreover, product discovery with story mapping can be useful when planning just a component or a feature for a running product. Start with one goal or epic, then discover the journey and come up with solutions.

Jira backlog management with story maps

User story mapping tools are lightweight solutions to manage the backlog. Using online tools you have the bird's-eye view of the project. The intuitive layout of user stories lets you move and rearrange the user stories among versions by drag and drop. Moreover, it can be a nice spot to track the development's progression when the statuses are synced with Jira. No need to jump into the Jira project when you would add some spec to the story, just add notes to the card, everything will be synced to the Jira project.


Story map as a part of the Jira framework

To sum up, user story mapping is a lightweight but effective solution for high-level planning when starting a product from scratch. The method guides the team through a user-focused planning process. It's easy-to-understand and intuitive, so you can widen the product team for the brainstorming.

Online story mapping tools contain the right amount of features to keep the ideation phase simple and focused. The user story map is a visual aid for non-technical members, so they can jump in at any time. This visual backlog is a proper place to deal with subsequent steps such as version planning, continuous product discovery, etc. Moreover, a user story map can be a product owner sandbox to collect ideas and sketch new journeys or features without disturbing the development in the Jira project.


So don't hesitate, sign up for an online tool and rediscover your product. You can start it from scratch or import the running project to the story map. I'm 100% sure both processes will guide you to new solutions.


I used StoriesOnBoard as story mapping software for Jira, to capture screenshots.

1 comment

Hi - great article thanks. Will integration work with the next-gen version of Jira?

Like Craig Campbell likes this


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