Bootstrap Story Maps with Innovation Games

Being a consultancy, Atomic Object starts a new project every few months. During a project’s Research, Design and Planning phase, we commonly create a story map for the product we are building for our clients.

We include our clients in the story map creation process. I’ve found that they aren’t as invested in the story map if they don’t get a chance to take part in building it. Building a story map with 2-3 people can flow pretty smoothly, especially if the people involved have built software products before.

I’ve struggled to focus groups of 4 or more people in the story mapping process. Side conversations inevitably take place, people disengage and then become flustered when they realize they weren’t part of a decision. If people haven’t decomposed a software product on the axes of high-level activities and tasks before, they are uncertain on how to start building the story map and can be reluctant to engage once the map starts taking form.

Instead of building a story map with clients from a blank slate, I’ve started using Innovation Games® to bootstrap story maps. I’ve used Product Box and Start Your Day during a day-long session to allow project stakeholders to convey high-level goals and detailed product usage.

After the IG session with our clients, we at Atomic Object process the product boxes, calendar templates and observer notes. We translate the IG artifacts into a story map. The translation is fun and fast because we have experience building effective story maps.

Afterwards we bring the clients back into the process for a day-long session of story map manipulation and release planning. Instead of starting from scratch, clients see a partially completed story map. Explaining the story map concept and showing clients a story map that partially represents their product allows clients to easily grasp how to continue building the map.

I recommend allowing clients about 10 minutes to review the primed story map before asking them to update it. Clients need an opportunity to mentally digest the map and understand the implied granularity differences between activities, tasks and sub-tasks. I keep the product boxes and calendars displayed for reference and I annotate each card in the bootstrapped story map so that it can be traced back to its source in the IG artifacts.

When working with groups of 4 or more, I recommend splitting the group into two subgroups and having the subgroups start dialing in the story map from opposite ends. Have the subgroups criss-cross each other and continue to the other end of the map so that each subgroup gets to thoroughly review the map.

When each subgroup is finished working the map, I have the entire group review the map together from end to end. It’s amazing how focused the group becomes. I suspect it’s because each team member feels invested in their work and excited to describe their contributions to the story map.

Using Innovation Games to bootstrap story maps makes the entire process fun, engaging and efficient for our clients.

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