Story Mapping – Getting Started

April 7, 2010

In our recent training, Jeff Patton presented a structured discovery process centered around the story map and personas, neatly packaged into about a week of time. Some people in the training were worried that their clients wouldn’t be willing to commit this. Let’s tackle this from two angles: how to get a client to the table to do some serious discovery work and how to get some practice so you are ready to go when you get that opportunity.

Approaching Your Client

Engineers are pretty good at figuring out why things won’t work. Your client already has a nice requirements doc. They have already kicked off the project. They are extremely busy and couldn’t possibly make time for this. The schedule is tight enough already. They will be put off by the note cards and the drawings and the paper prototypes and walk out.

If you approach your client with that mindset, then you will fulfill this destiny.

What if you approached it with this mindset instead:

If we don’t figure out the real goals of this project, we could waste hundreds of thousands of dollars. We could hurt rather than help someone. We could completely miss that market opportunity.

Delivering this sort of message requires some skill, but if your brain and heart are in the right place you’re much more likely to succeed. Here’s a sample opener:

“The requirements document you provided looks great. There’s a ton of valuable information there and we will definitely dive into it. I’d like to supplement this with some discovery sessions where we talk with you and your team about the project. In our experience, these sessions provide real depth to the requirements, really help us understand the ‘why’ instead of just the ‘what’, and save our clients time and money. We have a fairly painless process for this that I can tailor to your needs.”

Translate to your own words and give it a shot. Be confident … you are taking care of your clients.

Getting Practice

We aren’t all in a position to go offer this to a client right now. What can we do to practice so that we’re ready to go when the opportunity presents itself? Here are a few ideas:

  • Pick a portion of an existing project you’re working on and use one of the relevant techniques (story mapping, personas, paper prototyping, etc.) Afraid that it will take time away from development? What are the chances that you’ll learn something important about your project that completely dwarf that time investment?
  • Look at an internal or pet project, and apply the discovery process to it. You don’t necessarily have to move on to the actual development afterwards (though your stakeholders will probably be excited by the end of it!)
  • Story map or model the users a project you’ve already done.
  • Do paper prototyping for an imaginary product with volunteers in the cafeteria at work. Or your kids. Or your parents.
  • See if you actually know the outcomes for your project. Once you realize you don’t, go learn them.