How we work: Focus on your customers

How we work: Focus on your customers

In our agile series, we write about how we work at aFrogleap. We like to involve our clients in the process as much as possible so that they quickly get a feeling with their product. Crucial parts of this process are knowing who your customer is, and creating a shared understanding of the challenge at hand. In this article, our agile coach Arthur explains how a User Story Map can help you focus on the needs of your customer. So, you’ve validated your idea. Let’s build it!

Building a digital product can feel like being put in an escape room for the first time. You know what you want to achieve — escape the room as fast as possible — but you’re not yet sure about the steps you need to take to get there. A good strategy and teamwork can you help accomplish this as effectively as possible.

When walking through the escape room, you’ll become familiar with your surroundings. While being aware that you don’t yet know where the exit is, you’ll find yourself looking for clues. Suddenly, you find there is a hidden room behind the closet you had been looking at the entire time.

By becoming more familiar with the unknown, you can make better decisions on what steps to take next.

For digital products, a User Story Map will help you create a strategy for becoming familiar with the unknown. It will help you to:

  1. Create a shared understanding
  2. Put customers first
  3. Generate ideas
  4. Focus on creating value
  5. See if you’re still on track

1. Create a shared understanding

For a team to start working on your idea, it needs to be on the same page for the challenge at hand. By visualizing your thinking with words and pictures, differences can be detected early on. By remixing and improving those differences, you’ll arrive at something better. Afterwards, when the team says they agree, you can make sure that they actually do.

[I’m glad we all agree then.](https://medium.com/@tsharon/why-wework-ux-won-t-have-a-research-team-224d9769a1ad) Credit: User Story Mapping, by Jeff Patton (O’Reilly, 2014).

User Story Mapping is a tool which helps to visualize your thinking, and that of the development team, in a structured way. By creating a map of how your customers will interact with the product, it’s easier to spot opportunities and risks early on.

Creating a User Story Map

2. Put customers first

Successful products are products that solve a real problem. They are built for people actually experiencing the problem, not for yourself. When a product solves a real customer’s pain — repetitive tasks, boring tasks, or tasks which can’t be done yet — she will be much more likely to become an advocate of your brand.

You will always have assumptions when creating a product. That’s okay. The only way to find out if these are correct is by building something and putting it in the hands of customers.

Creating a User Story Map starts with them, the customers. The first step is describing how they are currently experiencing their “pain” — activity by activity — using a post-it for each activity; This becomes the “backbone” of your digital product.

User activities build up the backbone of the User Story Map.

Most of the times, there are multiple types of users. Start with the most important one first. This will help you validate assumptions early on, see if you’re on the right track and make better decisions when building solutions for the other types of users.

3. Generate ideas

Now that the backbone is in place, it’s time to generate ideas to accomplish the activity. Some will come directly out of the prototype of your product, some will be new, as you’ve had new insights along the way.

For example, some ideas we had for our Schadeformulier app for the “Create a claim”-activity:

  • Fill in personal details
  • Add pictures of the accident
  • Specify who’s liable
Adding ideas to accomplish the activities.

Generating ideas together with the team will give you the chance to identify possible issues and risks early on. By sketching, wireframing and designing collaboratively with the team, you’ll be able to set out the best possible strategy with the knowledge you have now.

We’ll transform the most important ideas into user stories, and make a forecast using Magic Estimation. This way you’ll get a quick grasp of the relative size of the ideas, and in what time range they can be developed.

4. Focus on creating value

The last step — for now — in creating the User Story Map is prioritizing your ideas, so that you create the most value for your customers.

Depending on your product, the first sprint or two will be knowledge-focused. The team has to become familiar with your business domain, and it also has to setup the foundation of your product. When that’s in place, focus shifts to creating as much customer value as possible in the least amount of time.

By slicing up your User Story Map into several releases, you create a roadmap for the coming period. Per release, we’ll try to define the least amount of work needed to create the most possible value for your customers.

Having your strategy worked out, it’s now time to start learning from your customers and see if it is the right approach.

Let’s start building!

Every two weeks the team creates a potentially shippable product increment, transforming your original idea into a piece of art, step-by-step. By reviewing it with the team, you can discuss the progress that has been made. By putting the increment in the hands of customers, you can start measuring if you’re on the right track.

5. See if you’re still on track

The [Lean feedback loop](http://theleanstartup.com/principles)

Based on the progress made, we’ll reflect on the User Story Map every two weeks. This will help with questions such as:

  • What have we learned about the unknown so far?
  • Are we still going in the right direction?
  • Based on our learnings, do we need to change direction?

Because of this, you can always make the best possible decision for creating as much customer value as possible — and by doing that, make your product a success.

Wanna learn more about working agile?

Most organizations break once they reach 25 employees. Last year, we grew to over 30 by becoming a responsive agency.

Read how we made the transition.

Can we help you with your agile journey? Are you interested in working with us? Or do you have any questions? Let us know at info@afrogleap.com