From Roadmap to Backlog: Unleashing the Power of User Story Mapping

Last Updated: July 18, 2023

You’re a product leader. You’ve got a roadmap that’s as beautiful as a Monet painting. It’s strategic, it’s visionary, it’s… utterly useless when it comes to the day-to-day grind. Your development team is staring at it like it’s an alien artifact. They need a backlog, a to-do list, not a piece of abstract art.

Welcome to the chasm between strategy and execution, a place where great ideas go to die. But don’t despair. There’s a bridge that can get you across. It’s called user story mapping, and it’s about to become your new best friend.

In this article, we’re going to show you how user story mapping can turn your beautiful-but-baffling roadmap into a practical, actionable product backlog. We’ll walk you through the process, step by step, and even give you a real-world example of how it works. So buckle up and let’s get started. Because that roadmap isn’t going to implement itself.


Decoding the Product Roadmap

Product roadmaps are a thing of beauty. Done properly, these strategic masterpieces outline your product’s future filled with high-level goals, strategic initiatives, and a vision that would make Steve Jobs proud. But here’s the kicker: it’s all strategy, no tactics. It’s the ‘what’, not the ‘how’.

Let’s take a step back. What exactly is a product roadmap? At its core, the product roadmap is a strategic document that sets the direction and vision for a product over time. It’s a high-level overview that outlines where you’re going, what you’re aiming to achieve, and how you plan to get there. It’s your North Star, your guiding light, the strategic ‘big picture’ that keeps everyone aligned and moving in the same direction.

The roadmap is where you capture your product’s goals, the major efforts needed to achieve those goals, and the timeline for when those efforts should be undertaken. It’s where you communicate your strategy to stakeholders, from your development team to your executives to your customers. It’s a tool for alignment, for communication, for strategic planning.

But while a roadmap is a crucial tool for strategic planning, it’s less helpful when it comes to the day-to-day work of your development team. That’s because a roadmap is all about the ‘what’ – the goals and initiatives – and not so much about the ‘how’ – the specific tasks and activities needed to achieve those goals. 


Navigating with the Product Backlog

Enter the product backlog. This is where the rubber meets the road with detailed, nuts and bolts to-do lists that tell your team exactly what needs to be done, when, and by whom. 

But what exactly is a product backlog? In the simplest terms, a product backlog is a prioritized list of tasks that need to be completed to achieve the goals set out in your product roadmap. It’s the tactical counterpart to your strategic roadmap, the detailed ‘how’ to your roadmap’s high-level ‘what’.

Each item in your backlog represents a specific task that needs to be completed, whether it’s developing a new feature, fixing a bug, or conducting user research. Sometimes these items are written as user stories, which describe a feature from the end user’s perspective.

The beauty of a product backlog is that it gives your development team a clear, detailed guide to what they should be working on. But there’s a catch….


Bridging the Gap: The Challenge

We’ve got our roadmap. It’s a thing of beauty, full of high-level goals and strategic visions. And then we’ve got our backlog, the nuts and bolts of what we’re actually going to do. It’s our to-do list of tasks we need to tick off to turn our vision into reality.

But here’s the rub: turning that roadmap into a backlog isn’t just a matter of breaking down those high-level goals into tasks. It’s a translation job. And like any translation job, things can get lost in the process.

When we fail to translate effectively, we end up with a backlog that doesn’t reflect our roadmap. We’ve all been there. We start off with a clear vision of what we want to achieve, but somewhere along the line, that vision gets diluted. We get so caught up in the day-to-day tasks that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

And when that happens, it’s not just the product that suffers. It’s the whole team. Engineers end up working on tasks that don’t align with the strategic vision. Product managers struggle to prioritize features and manage scope. And the knock-on effects can be felt throughout the company.

When we fail to hit those roadmap milestones, it’s not just a missed target. It’s a broken promise. It’s a let-down to customers who were expecting that new feature. It’s a red flag to stakeholders who were banking on that product launch. It’s a hit to the company’s credibility and a blow to team morale.

So, how do we solve this? How do we ensure that our backlog reflects our roadmap, that our day-to-day tasks align with our strategic vision? The answer lies in a tool called user story mapping. It’s a way of bridging the gap between the roadmap and the backlog, ensuring that we’re not just doing things right, but doing the right things.


The Power of User Story Mapping

Let’s talk about user story mapping. If you’re not familiar with it, don’t worry. It’s not some arcane technique that requires a degree in rocket science to understand. It’s a simple, practical tool that can help us bridge the gap between our roadmap and our backlog.

So, what is user story mapping? At its core, it’s a method of organizing user stories based on the user’s journey through your product. Instead of a flat, one-dimensional list of tasks, you end up with a visual map that reflects the user’s experience.

Imagine you’re planning a road trip. You wouldn’t just make a list of all the places you want to visit. You’d map out your route, right? You’d figure out the most logical order to visit each place, based on their location and the route you’re taking. That’s what user story mapping does for your product development.

You start by laying out your user stories in a horizontal line, from left to right. This is your backbone, the main narrative of your user’s journey. Then, under each story, you list the details that need to be done to make that story a reality. 

What you end up with is a map that tells a story. It’s a story about your user, about their journey through your product, about the tasks they need to complete and the experiences they’ll have along the way. It’s a story that reflects your roadmap, but in a way that’s grounded in the reality of your user’s experience.

And that’s the beauty of user story mapping. It’s not just a tool for organizing tasks. It’s a tool for understanding your users, for seeing your product through their eyes. It’s a way of ensuring that your backlog isn’t just a list of things to do, but a map of where you’re going.


Translating Roadmap into Backlog with User Story Mapping

So, we’ve got our roadmap, we’ve got our backlog, and we’ve got this shiny new tool called user story mapping. Now, how do we use it to bridge the gap between the two?

First, we need to break down our roadmap goals into user journeys. Each goal on our roadmap represents a journey that our users want to take. Maybe they want to open a high-yield savings account, or maybe they want to transfer money to a friend. Whatever it is, it’s a journey, and it’s our job to map it out.

Once we’ve mapped out our user journeys, we can start to see the trade-offs. Maybe opening a high-yield savings account requires a lot of work on the backend, but it’s a high priority for our users. On the other hand, transferring money to a friend might be easier to implement, but it’s not as high a priority. By mapping out these journeys, we can see these trade-offs clearly and make informed decisions about what to build next.

Next, we use our user story map to create release slices. These are chunks of work that we can deliver in each sprint cycle. They’re what we put in our product backlog. Each slice should deliver value to the user and move us closer to our roadmap goals. By slicing our work this way, we ensure that we’re always delivering value, even if we’re not delivering the whole enchilada at once.

And that’s the magic of user story mapping. It’s not just a way to organize tasks. It’s a way to align our day-to-day work with our strategic goals. It’s a way to turn our roadmap into a reality, one backlog item at a time.


A Real-World Example

Let’s dive into a specific example. Imagine you’re on a product team for a bank. You’ve been tasked with launching a new product: a high-yield savings account that automatically adjusts savings rates based on market trends. This is a strategic goal on your product roadmap meant to attract more customers and increase their deposits.

Now, how do you translate this strategic roadmap item into tactical product backlog items? Here’s where user story mapping shines.

First, you create the backbone of your user story map, which represents the user’s journey with this new product. The steps might include:

  1. Discover the new high-yield savings account
  2. Learn about its features and benefits
  3. Open a new high-yield savings account
  4. Deposit money into the account
  5. Monitor the growth of savings
  6. Adjust savings strategy based on personalized insights

Each of these steps represents a user activity. Now, under each of these activities, you can start listing the specific product backlog items that need to be developed.

Under “Open a new high-yield account”, the product backlog might include the following:

  • Create a secure user registration form for the new high-yield savings account.
  • Integrate identity verification API to validate users’ personal information during account opening.
  • Develop a feature for users to link their existing bank account for initial deposit.
  • Implement real-time validation for form fields to guide users during account opening.
  • Build a feature to capture and store users’ consent to terms and conditions.
  • Develop a secure and compliant data storage solution for new account holder information.
  • Create an automated email confirmation process post successful account creation.
  • Integrate with the bank’s core banking system to create the new account in the backend.
  • Develop a feature to display the new account in the user’s account dashboard upon successful creation.
  • Implement error handling for failed account creation attempts, with clear user notifications.

So, there you have it. The roadmap, the backlog, and the bridge that connects them: user story mapping.

We started with a roadmap, a high-level view of where we want to go. It’s our vision, our strategy, our big picture. But as we’ve seen, it’s not enough to just have a vision. We need a way to turn that vision into reality.

That’s where the backlog comes in. It’s our to-do list, our action plan. It’s where the rubber meets the road. But as we’ve also seen, creating a backlog from a roadmap isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s not a matter of just breaking down our roadmap goals into tasks. It’s a complex process that requires a deep understanding of our users, our product, and our strategic goals.

And that’s where user story mapping shines. It’s a tool that helps us understand our users’ journeys. It helps us see the trade-offs, decide what to build next, and create release slices that deliver value with each sprint cycle. It’s a tool that turns our roadmap into a backlog, our vision into action.

But more than that, user story mapping is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking about our product not just in terms of features and tasks, but in terms of user journeys and experiences. It’s a way of ensuring that every line of code we write, every feature we build, is taking us closer to our roadmap goals.

So, the next time you’re staring at your roadmap, wondering how to turn it into a backlog, give user story mapping a try. You might just find that it’s the bridge you’ve been looking for.


Ready to Bridge the Gap?

Now that you’ve seen the power of user story mapping, it’s time to put it into action. Don’t let your roadmap collect dust while your backlog grows out of control. Start using user story mapping to bridge the gap between your strategic vision and your tactical execution.

And if you’re looking for a tool to help you create and manage your user story maps, check out CardBoard. It’s designed to make user story mapping as intuitive and effective as possible. So why wait? Start your journey with user story mapping today and watch as your roadmap goals turn into backlog action items.

Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single-user story. Start your journey today with CardBoard.