Story Mapping the Wrong Way


Doing It Wrong
We gathered in our conference room with index-card-sized sticky notes, Sharpies, and a rolling whiteboard. Here’s a little context about our domain: Our application automates all aspects of selling, creating, and managing 401(k) retirement plans. The “We Help You Choose” theme that we were planning revolves around a third-party vendor that helps 401(k) participants decide how to invest their retirement funds. If an employer providing a 401(k) plan to its employees wants to offer this service, the employer has to pay extra.

We had ten people in the room. The first thing I forgot is that you should divide into small groups of three to five people and have each group map the theme. Uh oh.

I started by asking our business experts about the personas for the theme. Who would be using it? The answer was the sales representative. Unfortunately, our stakeholders knew almost nothing about these sales reps, so we couldn’t really flesh out the personalities of this persona. This was not a good start! All we could do was call him “Sammy Sales Rep” and say he was interested only in making the sale.

Next, I asked everyone to get up and grab a permanent marker and some sticky notes and start timelining the user tasks for this theme. What would Sammy Sales Rep do first? What would he do next? We knew the theme revolved around establishing a new 401(k) plan, so we would organize the user tasks around that.

Nobody got out of their chair. If only I had remembered about dividing into smaller groups! I repeated my request more assertively. The ScrumMaster got up and came to join me. Nobody else moved. In hindsight, I should have switched from doing the story map on the rolling whiteboard to doing it on the conference table, but I didn’t think of that.

Giving up on getting people to physically move, I asked, “What’s the first thing Sammy Sales Rep would do?” He’s going to create a 401(k) plan for an employer. This is a multi-step wizard, so the timeline seemed fairly obvious. I wrote “Step 1” on a sticky note and put it on the rolling whiteboard. The sales rep would enter company information, then select contribution options for the plan, then select mutual funds or the “Help Me Choose” options, and so on.

Once we had this timeline of tasks, we went back and drilled into the details. What would change with each step compared with what sales reps do currently when they create a 401(k) plan? We noted the details needed for each UI page and some technical implementation requirements.

Unfortunately, we had started off at too detailed a level. We first should have identified “user activities”—the high-level things users do to achieve a particular goal. Establishing a 401(k) plan is an activity of the sales rep user. Managing the fund lineups is a user activity. We started with “user tasks”—specific steps within a user activity. “Select a fund lineup” is a user task within the activity of establishing a 401(k) plan.

Nevertheless, we got through a timeline of what Sammy Sales Rep would do. We also thought of the need for a user interface to manage the “We Help You Choose” program as well as a report. We also wrote stickies for a system to manage the “mutual fund lineups” that would be offered and for some reports to track which 401(k) plans have chosen a “fund lineup.” We included many details about each step of the timeline, both from a user perspective and a technical-implementation perspective.

I also forgot that we should have walked through the story map with the stakeholders. This serves as a way of testing the map and finding additional details. Of course, now that we had the map, we could do that later.

About the author

Lisa Crispin's picture Lisa Crispin

Lisa Crispin is the co-author, with Janet Gregory, of Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams (Addison-Wesley, 2009), co-author with Tip House of Extreme Testing (Addison-Wesley, 2002) and a contributor to Beautiful Testing (O’Reilly, 2009) and Experiences of Test Automation by Dorothy Graham and Mark Fewster (Addison-Wesley, 2011). She has worked as a tester on agile teamssince 2000, and enjoys sharing her experiences via writing, presenting, teaching and participating in agile testing communities around the world. Lisa was named one of the 13 Women of Influence in testing by Software Test & Performance magazine in 2009. For more about Lisa’s work, visit

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