User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product

Jeff Patton (2014)
Review date: May 2015

To be honest, I struggled a little with this book. On one, hand I found it to be packed with knowledge and experience, explanations, and superb one-liners. On the other hand, I sometimes lost my bearings in it.

The way I read this book, I found three central messages:

  1. What's a story?
  2. How does story mapping work?
  3. Are you building the right thing (validated learning and experimenting)

As for stories, I've started to regress a little in my daily work with stories; I started to make them a little "requirements-like", in not a very good way. This book has set this straight! Stories are triggers of conversations; there's something written on the card, but it's the conversation around the card that's important (and the shared understanding, needless to say). Based on the conversation, the team may create additional artifacts to support it, but the conversation is the key! If I recall correctly, older books on the topic didn't put that kind of emphasis on the conversation, although it was always thought of as being very important. After having read the book I began to feel comfortable with our backlog, which is pretty much organized around one-sentence user stories.

Then there's a part dedicated to the actual story mapping. It's not as large as one would expect, but it's perfectly sufficient and well-written to teach the reader about the technique. Besides explaining the core of story mapping, the author uses real-life examples to illustrate how the technique can be tweaked and extended to provide additional benefits, such as risk management, for example.

Finally, towards the end, and sometimes throughout the text, the author spends a lot of time telling us about different ways of validating, experimenting, and learning, presenting ideas from Lean Startup, Lean UX, and design thinking. To be honest, I sometimes lost track there, especially towards the end of the book, where I was no longer able to relate the concepts to my past and present experience. Too bad.

In terms of structure, I found this book hard to read. To me it wasn't apparent that the contents of one chapter built logically on the contents of the preceding chapter. I also found the numerous photos, text boxes, and case studies disturbing. In theory, these things usually help the brain by creating diversity and surprise, but they didn't help mine in this case. However, when mentioning this to other people who had read the book, I learned that they didn't have the same problem, so I guess it was just my daily form. Apart from this, and me losing track towards the end, I found this to be a very good book!

It's crystal clear about the use of user stories and story mapping, and it contains some real gems. One thing I really liked were the "key points", i.e., some very well formulated quotes spread throughout the book. For example: "Minimize output, and maximize outcome and impact" or "Scope doesn't creep; understanding grows". There are many others. The book is also very good at explaining what the author's view of an MVP is and how it relates to Eric Ries' concept with the same name. I also liked the very beginning, where the terms output and outcome are explained, and where the reader learns that outcomes should be achieved with as little output as possible. I could go on, but at this point, I'm just going to encourage you to read it.

In conclusion, this book will make you good at working with user stories, prepared to work with story mapping, and will place this work in a larger context, where learning and experimenting are key ingredients.

Who should read this book

This book will strengthen both product owners and team members in using user stories and user story mapping.


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