Top Tools for User Story Mapping: From Post-Its to the Best Digital Apps

by Wouter Walgraeve on April 7, 2016

So you’ve mastered the technique of User Story Mapping. Or you’ve read the book by Jeff Patton. Or you’re excited to get started because of our series of blog posts… Whatever the case may be, we’ve got a little extra for you: a walk through the jungle of storymapping tools.

First, a small disclaimer and some general advice: picking the right tool for any kind of job is not a goal, but a means to an end. Tools are designed to make your daily life easier, to raise the quality of your work and to support you and your team to take your project to the next level.

User Story Mapping is a technique, a methodology that can be performed using sharpies, sticky notes and a big wall. We recommend you start developing your storymapping skills in that old-fashioned, analogue way. That’s because, sometimes, your digital tools might be out of order or because the context of the workshop you want to conduct isn’t quite suited for a digital approach. Then, the better option is to digitize afterwards.

You might even wonder, ‘why digitize at all?’ A very important element of user story mapping is to create a vivid, dynamic artifact that can be used by the entire team during the whole process of building and improving a product. And the best place to integrate it into your daily activities is to stick it on a wall, close to the project pit.

Nowadays, especially in the development stage, agile tools like JIRA are incorporated into the flow of digital production teams: digital boards are portable, are open for collaboration and are easy to integrate in the daily flow of digital delivery. And in that case, picking the right tool for the right job (and mastering it) is your next step in your user story mapping journey.

Tools for storymapping: the cream of the crop

We’ve picked the best of breed among the tools that are designed for story mapping. The two headliners are:

StoriesOnBoard

StoriesOnBoard is a storymapping tool developed by the Hungarian company DevMads. They offer a browser-based cloud solution designed specifically for storymapping. The interface allows drag&drop as well as keyboard shortcuts, which makes it really easy to get things going.

Because of the clear design, the tool is highly accessible, even for stakeholders you want to onboard (pun intended) during the workshop that are inexperienced in the world of storymapping. The product is great to get a quick grip on the methodology and acts as a facilitator as well, so all you have to focus on is writing good user stories. If you master the platform, you can even consider calibrating your stories with the team within the tool right away.

To support co-creation, you can use StoriesOnBoard in two modes:

  • A 2-level board for business, i.e. a creative mode for brainstorms and workshops. The focus of this mode is ‘Doing the Right Things’.
  • A 3-level board for Product Owners and their teams, mainly focused on tasks, sprints and releases, a mindset of ‘Getting things done’. Use this mode if you want to focus on ‘Doing Things Right’.

Other features of the platform include:

  • Team collaboration on one canvas (although a google-app-like live-update concept would be a killer feature)
  • Integration with JIRA, Trello or Pivotal tracker, as well as an API to explore your own integrations with your preferred platform
  • Export to XLS, PDF or PNG is available
  • Interaction can be done using a commenting module, but the platform also hooks up to Slack, HipChat and Flowdock
  • At the moment, StoriesOnBoard is free and in constant state of beta. DevMads is continuously developing and expanding the platform

More information at storiesonboard.com

Our advice: Use this tool to connect the tech team with business in a co-creative storymapping mindset. Let the team continue to use the insights in JIRA or any other connected platform that’s designed for agile development (bugs, issues, tasks, velocity …).

FeatureMap

FeatureMap is a browser-based cloud tool developed by Salience, a tech company in France.

The concept is similar to StoriesOnBoard as it is a tool designed for storymapping. The interface feels a bit more cluttered, but here of course we’re entering the area of flavors and personal preferences.
FeatureMap tries to be comprehensive, even without the integration with other platforms. Basically, the platform could be a replacement for JIRA, even though you can connect both.

Because of this self-contained approach, the list of features is a bit longer compared to other tools: searching for stories, enrichment of stories, assigning stories to people, budgets and estimates, due dates ...

Other features include:

  • Communication about stories, releases and tasks is done within the tool
  • Exports and integrations are premium features
  • Free for two maps, subscriptions start at €10,00/month

More information at featuremap.co

Our advice: If you’re looking for a comprehensive tool that can be used by the whole team, FeatureMap is the way to go. Do keep in mind that you’ll have less options for supporting your Agile development process (like reporting etc.)

Tools that can be used for storymapping

“Yet another tool?! And it’s only for storymapping?”

Nowadays, many teams suffer from the scattered landscape of tools and apps needed for a successful project delivery. So you may want to think about a consolidated strategy on tool selection.

As the technique of User Storymapping isn’t that complex, you can consider using more generic tools to create digital artifacts for your story maps.

We’ve selected four potentials:

Agile User Story Map for JIRA/Atlassian

Agile User Story Map for JIRA/Atlassian is an add-on for the Atlassian platform. And there’s the rub: the plugin often feels like a map on top of the common JIRA backlog management, whereas a storymap – to us – should be the core that leads to epics, stories and tasks.

More information at marketplace.atlassian.com

Mural

Mural is a sticky notes tool and is in a vivid expansion mode. It’s very keen on positioning itself as the choice to make for co-creation in remote teams, with a design thinking perspective in mind. Their library contains a stack of business service design examples and therefore Mural could be your centralized repository for all your maps and canvasses in your design process (story maps, personas, customer journeys …).

More information at mural.ly

Cardboard

Cardboard is another digital sticky notes application, one with a very loose structure. It can be used for story maps, customer journeys ... basically anything you can imagine using sticky notes on a grid.

More information at cardboardit.com

Realtimeboard

Realtimeboard mainly is a digital whiteboard tool, starting from a template instead of a white canvas. It’s an interesting concept on its own, but unfortunately the team will need to upgrade the usability of the platform to really convince you to incorporate the application in your daily activities.

More information at realtimeboard.com

Other tools

Other tools that are worth mentioning for the sake of completeness:

  • Silver Stories by ToolsForAgile
  • SpecLog
  • Storymapper for Pivotal tracker
  • Story map: a git-package in case you would consider building your own custom tool
  • Trello: could be bent as a storymapping tool (without the slicing features)
  • Waffle.io: a Trello clone
  • Digital drawing tools like Visio, Omnigraffle, Smartdraw and Gliffy
  • Spreadsheets (Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel ...)
  • And of course last but not least: good old sharpies, sticky notes, a wall & the Post-Its application to get from analogue to digital sticky notes.

Your weapon of choice a.k.a. Takeaways

As you’ve noticed, there are lots of tools available to support your user story mapping activities. Here at AE, we prefer to handle a tool that’s designed for story mapping: in most cases, StoriesOnBoard is our preferred weapon of choice.

The main thing to keep in mind is to be prepared, get comfortable with a tool and most importantly: master the storymapping technique. It’s only once you’ve got the skills that a tool will provide added value for your activities.

Want to know more about user story mapping and business service design? Get in touch.

Topics: Digital, Story Mapping, AE Foyer, Service Design, Customer Experience

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