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Using Story Maps to Build High-Value Software Releases

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Solution design and implementation strategy is integral to getting the most out of your Salesforce investment. We’ve used many frameworks and tools for solution design across the years, testing which methods produce the right solutions, at the right time, and the right budget. In recent years we’ve become very fond of tool called the Story Map.

As a client, a story map is one of the first things our Solution Architects will develop with you for your project, and it will provide the basis for planning incremental releases moving forward. What is a story map, why is it better than a traditional flat backlog, and what does the process of creating one look like? Let's dive in and take a look!

Story Map using Sticky Notes on a Whiteboard

What is a story map?

A story map is designed to map a user's journey across the various activities they undertake with your Salesforce software. It identifies all the potential user stories and considers the features that help those users along the way. In its focus on the workflow and complete experience, a story map helps break down releases into high-value groupings of functionality that can immediately benefit your users and business.

Why is story mapping better than just a flat backlog?

You're likely familiar with a flat backlog and its list of discrete features and competing priorities. The problem with a backlog is that it doesn't take into account workflow or dependencies. That is to say, you may end up correctly identifying the highest value story, but fail to see that it depends on a lower level feature. Backlogs simply aren't designed to convey that sort of interconnectedness of business workflows, and, as a result, you're left with a list of isolated features with no larger picture to make sense of it all. It's also easy to lose sight of what it is the application is actually doing when you focus exclusively on individual details.

Flat Backlog Compared to Story Map

Story maps, in contrast, are far more expressive than a flat backlog. They provide context for the various features by helping teams visualize activities and workflows from start to finish. Rather than a ranked to-do list of items, you have a more complete picture of all the various user stories and how they move through the software. A story map allows you to more easily identify the high-value stories and know exactly which features are required in order to put them into service. This, in turn, enables you to build releases that are immediately useful with all of the necessary moving parts.

A story map also makes it easier to communicate with stakeholders at all levels and in all areas of your business. Instead of a cryptic list of stories broken down into sprints, you have a more robust visualization of exactly how your application is being used that everyone can understand. This helps keep teams on the same page, and it also helps to manage expectations and gives discernible value to every release.  

How To Create A Story Map

A story map is particularly well-suited for building out applications in Salesforce, in which incremental releases can offer tremendous value across your business. Whether you have ten employees or a thousand, our Solution Architect will guide your team through the same process of crafting a story map to help you get the most bang from your buck and ensure your solutions are meeting every user's needs.

1. Identify Tasks

The first step our Solution Architect will take in order to develop a story map is to work with your team to identify the tasks that a user conducts. These user stories will form the backbone of the story map. Together, we'll consider different users, different objectives, and different possible scenarios in order to capture all the relevant tasks.

2. Organize Workflow

With the tasks identified, we then group those tasks into higher-level activities, represented in our story map by columns, and organize them in chronological order horizontally. This allows us to visualize a user's workflow in context as they move through the software from start to finish.

3. Test for Gaps

Once we have the workflow established, we "test for gaps" by walking through it to identify any missing tasks. Any missing tasks get added to the appropriate place in the story map until we have a complete picture of the various user stories and all the ways in which they interact with the program.

4. Prioritize Stories

Next, we have the part any backlog users will be familiar with: Prioritizing. However, rather than deciding a feature's value in isolation, we now have all the necessary context to understand the role a given feature plays throughout the user experience. Within each grouping of user stories, we can prioritize them to reflect the highest business value stories. We identify which tasks and features are essential for every user — and thus our highest priorities — and which are optional. As we move items around in the story map, we end up with a visual understanding of the most important features.

5. Determine Initial Release

With the priorities set, we then walk through the activities and identify the stories in each column that must be included in an initial release. Thanks to the story map, we can easily see all the relevant features that must be present for a particular activity to be possible. This allows for a more cohesive release that can be immediately impactful to users.

6. Identify Future Releases

From the remaining features, we identify subsequent releases based on priorities and the groupings that make sense — again, making sure each release will offer immediate value by keeping the workflow in mind. As we move down the story map, we add functionality a piece at a time, in a way that makes sense and captures a full picture of the user experience.

From start to finish, a story map is all about making sure your releases reflect the real needs of your users. You already know that Salesforce is a powerful business application development platform. Get even more out of it for your business with Relay's Salesforce Architect-as-a-Service offering. Our Solution Architects can help in-house teams and implementation partners deliver more effective product development roadmaps by crafting a robust story map for your business or client. Contact us to learn more today!

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