Virtual Story Mapping

Last post 04:34 pm March 20, 2020
by James Noble
4 replies
09:33 am March 18, 2020

I currently have a workshop set up which includes a user story mapping session (2 actually - a practice & actual). I'm now working from home along with many others.  Has anybody used a free online tool that would work well, not ideal but I have no other option or any tips/advice/lessons learnt on how to do it well online? 

09:11 pm March 18, 2020

I have used Mural for story mapping (, along with zoom for audio/video. Create a sample story map with some cards before you start, and when people join plan on spending some time up front explaining how it works and have them try practicing with some post-its.

07:55 am March 19, 2020

Hey Tina, just thought I would jot down some thoughts…

If possible, define the backbone upfront with a small group of people before diving into the body of the story map. As Jeff Patton says, focus on the breadth first, not the depth. Fleshing out the core user journeys can be a tough process and the more people in the (virtual) room, the more pressure it can be. Having this, or a rough version of it upfront can really improve the quality of the second (main) session.

Walk through the backbone with everyone to make sure you don’t have any gaps.

In your main session (assuming you have some stakeholders along with core team members), walk along the backbone together, journey by journey, step by step. Ensure everyone is happy with the naming semantics. By vocalising the user steps at this point, it becomes super obvious if anything is missing. “Our user is trying to book a stay with us, so first up they need to search for places to stay, then they need to view a list of search results…” and so on.

Try using a silent brainstorming session to come up with user story titles

You can timebox this to 5 or 10 minutes. Give everyone a place to write down their user story titles and just let them go at it! There will be cross-over between people, but that’s good and it brings up valid discussions. At this point, people don’t need to place user stories under the relevant steps, they can just brainstorm and create their own mini flat backlog or list.

Discuss and combine ideas

Pull together all the user story titles and combine any duplicates. Open up discussions where necessary. At this point, you can start firming up the user story title (sometimes it’s good to make it more succinct or verbose here) and then place them under the relevant step. I find it’s useful for the Product Owner to lead this, but allow others to chime in of course.

Slice a release

It’s super important to slice a release as early as you can. You don’t need the entire scope defined before you do this, but you do need at least the core functionality tracked. Slicing the release really shows people the power of story mapping and gets everyone thinking in a lean fashion. Name the release based on a user outcome if possible and start asking people “what is the minimum we can pull above the line to deliver this”. This should facilitate conversations where people question what is truly required.

I’ve got more tips if you want me to carry on. I guess some of these are relevant to both physical and digital story mapping too to be honest!

Tool-wise, my own tool Avion would probably fit the bill pretty well, but it’s not free, so I don’t think that will fit your needs. As Chris mentioned, Mural can work if they have a free plan. Having a decent tool for digital story mapping is a decent investment if you plan on using it longer-term. We find it’s an amazing way to drive the backlog and should live fr beyond the initial scoping exercise.

Hope that was somewhat useful!


An example public Avion story map, based on Airbnb (might be useful to see the user journeys and layout if you haven’t done it digitally before):

Finally, we have a bit more info on story mapping in general here:

08:28 pm March 19, 2020

Thanks Chris, i'll give that a try.

04:34 pm March 20, 2020

I use for many things including story mapping. It works very well for me.

They have a free option although for privacy reasons I use the subscription version which is still relatively inexpensive ($10 - 15 per month).

In my case I often host a session in zoom, creating and moving cards around as needed. The discussion seems to flow well. Limits number of needed accounts as well.

After the meeting I will often export a pdf of the board which can then be used for reference. There is also a Jira integration option which I haven't tried yet.

~Jamie N