User Story and User Story Map

A user story is an informal, plain-language description of what a user wants to achieve with a product and why. A user story map helps to represent a longer user journey.

User Stories

A user story is an informal, plain-language description of what a user wants to achieve with a product and why. The typical structure is:

As a [user role] I want to [do an action] such that I [achieve a benefit].

For the user role, user personas are highly useful. The story then continues with what the user wants to do with the product — in an abstract sense, so like “create a report“, instead of “press a button to download a PDF“. Finally, the user story also points at the bigger benefit, the why behind that user’s need.

Often, the above template can also be extended to include some context on when and where that activity is needed, for example when specific devices are in use, the user operates with sparse networks, etc.

User stories are simple enough to be represented in many different tools, be it index cards, sticky notes on a wall, hand-written statements on a whiteboard, or tickets in a project management tool.

However, user stories alone do not suffice to describe a longer process, when the user has to have multiple interactions with a product in order to achieve the final objective. For that, user story maps can be used:

User Story Maps

To arrange a larger set of user stories into a holistic picture, user story maps help by capturing and organizing the sequence of interactions by a user in order to perform a bigger task:

The idea here is two-fold:

  • Firstly, the overall journey of the user is depicted as a sequence of more complex activities (the black boxes in the illustration).
  • Secondly, user stories (the green boxes) are arranged according to these activities
Source: Easy Agile

In other words, a story map groups all stories into related activities (sometimes referred to as epics) and brings the user’s journey to life so that the overall process becomes more clear.

Note that there might be several alternative user stories for the same activity, such as selecting an item in e-commerce via search, with filters, via recommendations, and so on. Also, user stories can be prioritized as depicted above by arranging them from top to bottom. Based on that, the scope of the next iteration can be defined, as indicated by the purple line delimiter.

User journey maps look very similar, however, they are used to map the current activities of a user toward a certain goal and to indicate the satisfaction with each step, the emotional state. User story maps, by contrast, are a tool to specify future functionality or a product.

Further Reading

The Ultimate Guide to User Story Mapping

 [2021 Guide]