A key advantage of Agile (or Agile frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, or others) is that, unlike a waterfall project, it doesn’t call for requirements (user stories) and design to be locked into place from the outset. Instead, requirements and design have room to evolve through the backlog grooming process. You can even change your priorities midway through, adding to the backlog, while existing user stories are de-prioritized or removed entirely.
This Agile advantage comes with the temptation to skip user story mapping and design all together—a huge detriment to a project and the team’s ability to succeed. After all, these sessions take time and effort. It’s a mistake to ignore them under the presumption that “they’re not agile” or because having a roadmap won’t give the flexibility to rank future priorities.
The fact is roadmapping (creating an high-level vision of your initiative) and story mapping (creating the preliminary set of user stories and prioritizing in a backlog) are effective ways to align teams around a set direction. It can even help facilitate future conversations of prioritization and backlog grooming.
Now for those tips…
- Begin with a roadmap
The first requirement of any road trip is a destination. Sure, detours may come up, but knowing whether you’re heading to San Francisco or Boston is essential. Similarly, when you start a project, you should have an end goal in mind. Create a roadmap with Epics or Features in order to communicate the project vision to the team. Once the roadmap is completed, break those down in user stories and prioritize accordingly.
- Include the whole team: product owners, designers, developers, senior leadership, key stakeholders
Team roadmapping and story mapping sessions are great ways to get a team aligned and excited about a project. All too often, project leaders go off and create a roadmap for all to execute against. We’ve found that having the full team present is a big advantage. It ensures designers and developers fundamentally understand the strategy and that senior leaders have an early sense of the challenges. Finally, there isn’t the same risk of a communication breakdown where the project team is heading in the entirely wrong direction.
- Focus on benefit realized
It sounds obvious, but project goals are often lost in the details. Rather than attempting to solve all your problems with a silver bullet, we suggest identifying quick, short-term wins. The 80/20 Rule is an effective way of working toward solutions that will make an impact for your users, while de-prioritizing features that, while cool, are less than integral.
- Know your customer priorities
Implicit in the Agile framework is the belief that end users are your customers (even if some turn out to be a supply chain team, contractors, etc.). Treat them as such. Prioritize your efforts, placing greater emphasis on large groups and groups that will be heavily impacted.
- Focus on the forest and not the trees
Don't overload your user story with unnecessary detail (especially if you follow Tip 2 and have a large team with senior leadership). Focus instead on completing the roadmap, then evolving the user story throughout the backlog grooming process.
- Create living artifacts
While story mapping is efficient because it resides in the backlog, roadmapping should be equally well documented. Whether a technical issue delays a feature or a business unit is acquired or divested, things change. Be sure to make these changes evident to the whole team by documenting them in the roadmap and backlog.