Jeff Patton’s story mapping

When I heard people talking about “story mapping” I was intrigued. Especially as they explained it as a way to bring user stories to life. A user story is a simple but very effective tool to help design and develop (online) products, taking into account the end-user perspective. A story is typically written up in simple, everyday language capturing what a user does or needs to do as part of his or her job or to satisfy a certain need.

For example: “As an event coordinator (role), I need to be able to create an event schedule online (goal) so that I can access and amend the schedule whenever or wherever I want (benefit).”

Typically, these user stories get drafted and maintained in an excel spreadsheet where product or project managers can easily order and prioritise them. In the Agile development world this is often referred to as a feature backlog.

Jeff Patton is a well-known user experience (‘UX’) specialist. His main bugbear is ‘flat backlogs’ i.e. a static backlog of user stories, ranked in order of priority or value. I agree with his point that a lack of context is often a great risk with these backlogs. One tends to forget about what the overall system does or is supposed to do. It was Patton’s dissatisfaction with ‘flat backlogs’ which led to the creation of ‘story maps’.

These are the main things that I have learnt about story maps from having used this technique previously:

  1. Not looking at user stories in isolation – It’s easy to have a good overall idea of what a system should do, break this down into high-level features (and put these into a backlog) and to then come up with user stories for each individual feature (when one gets to work on it). The risk with this approach, however, is that one loses the overview of how the different user stories interact, of how the overall system is supposed to work.
  2. Thinking things through – I’m with Patton when he says “A story map, initially, for me, is about thinking things through and understanding user experience.” Physically laying out the different user stories and connecting them helps people to both maintain context and to identify bottlenecks or dependencies.
  3. It is a collaborative experience – One of the things I most like about story mapping and similar exercices is that it enables a group a of people to be involved in the process. I’ve got good experiences with cross-disciplined teams discussing the different scenarios, user stories and identifying pain points in the process. It brings discussions out in the open and gives people an opportunity to pitch in, adding their own unique perspective.
  4. A walking skeleton – The other thing that I really like about Patton’s story mapping is how it distinguishes between the “backbone” (a term originally coined by Dan Rawsthorne) – high level activities or outcomes that cannot be prioritised – and “ribs”, the actual user stories which can be prioritised. It helps to visualise the story map as a vertebrae, like Patton does: the big things on top are the critical things that a product needs to have – the minimum marketable features – whilst the ‘ribs’ (the user stories) get prioritised (see Fig. 1 below).
  5. User stories hanging down from the backbone – As I outlined in the previous point, the backbone doesn’t get prioritised. Instead, one moves the most critical user stories as high up as possible on the story map to stress their importance. When you do this, you’ll find that all the stories placed high on the story map describe the smallest possible system you could build that would give you end-to-end working functionality. This is what Agile specialist Alistair Cockburn refers to as a “walking skeleton”, a minimum viable product (‘MVP’). When creating a new product from scratch, I always try to concentrate on releasing the MVP first, getting real-time user feedback and iterating accordingly.

Main learning point: I really see the value of Jeff Patton’s story mapping technique. Both in a sense that it really helps to engage with people and that it ensures one doesn’t lose sight of the system as a whole. Being able to distinguish between the ‘backbone’ and the ‘ribs’ is another advantage of using Patton’s technique. Having more context around user stories and being clear on the critical nature of a story really helps in designing and developing products.

Fig.1 – Sample story map (source:

Related links for further learning:

Why I really like This Is My Jam

I love This Is My Jam. Period. This service, which only came out of private beta a few months ago, is as simple as it is effective.  This Is My Jam (‘TIMJ’) lets users select one track at the time (your “jam”) which will expire after one week. As a result, you tend to get recent tracks and a good flavour of the kinds of music people are ‘feeling’ at any given time. These are the main things I like about This Is My Jam:

  1. It is curated – Are you also getting tired of “what my friends are listening to” features on Spotify or YouTube, and the unfiltered flood of music that provides for!? As TIMJ co-founder Matthew Oggle explains: “Music gets lost in the deluge, and even when it’s noticed, links out to Spotify or Youtube in a social feed can feel impersonal.” TIMJ tries to address this by forcing users to carefully select a single jam at the time and enables them to personalise their pick by adding their own text or imagery.
  2. It is simple – The TIMJ site looks simple and is simple to use. Selecting and previewing the jam of your choice is incredibly easy and so is customising it. If you wish to share your jam on Facebook or Twitter, again, that is very simple too. I don’t know where it sits on TIMJ’s product roadmap, but it will be interesting to see what their mobile app will look like when they launch it.
  3. Music discovery at its finest – Having been on TIMJ for a good 6 months now, I am impressed with the variety of music on there. There is definitely an element of people trying to ‘outcool’ each other which means that you get a truly eclectic mix of genres and artists, and get to discover music that you might not have come across otherwise.
Main learning point: like with all these services, the question remains how popular This Is My Jam will become, how quickly it will manage to grow its user base. What I do know is that TIMJ offers a great, easy-to-use service for anyone who is passionate about music or who wishes to discover new stuff!

Related links for further learning:–dis-meets-this-is-my-jam

How cool is Google’s Project Glass?

At present, “Project Glass” is just a work in progress but Google assured its audience at last week’s I/O Conference that this augmented reality device will eventually be offered to the masses (how many of those masses ill actually be able to buy the device is another matter – a pre-order developer unit costs $1,500).

I guess the main thing to know about Project Glass is that it enables people wearing the glasses to search information, voice record messages, watch online videos, read text messages and post photos online without having to worry about fumbling with a handheld device.

With the device only scheduled to go on general sale in 2014, Google’s main aim at this stage is to receive as much developer feedback as possible. For example, a simple but obvious way for Google to get input on its latest project is through a dedicated post on Google+. Whatever you make of augmented reality, it is fair to say that this is a truly innovative device by Google and one that holds a lot of promise:

  1. Changing the way how we communicate – Think hands-free text messages, truly one-to-one tutorials and video conferencing that suddenly has become a whole lot easier.
  2. Access to and organising information – It will be interesting to see how ‘practical’ Google’s Project Glass will turn out to be, but I can imagine that the biggest draw of the device will be instant information access. From looking at some of the demo videos, it looks like the data overlays will not take up one’s entire field of vision but will instead appear in one’s peripheral vision. This will make the information present and instant enough for a user to access and organise.
  3. Posting and sharing will become even easier and quicker – With this new device the way in which we take pictures is likely to change dramatically. With the device stuck to your glasses, the opportunities for one to take pictures will increase significantly. Similarly, I can imagine it will become much easier to then post and share these pictures within one’s social network.

Main learning point: even though “Project Glass” is currently only in its prototype stage, it looks like a very cool and innovative device. The question remains how interactive and easy-to-use the actual consumer version will be. Like with all innovations, it is probably safe to expect something that will be very pricey, buggy and not super easy to use at first. It will be interesting to see if Project Glass or at it least its understanding technology will eventually turn into something that is here to stay.

Related links for further learning:;8n