User Story Mapping

I read a wonderful book, User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton. If you are a Product Manager in an Agile environment and are to read only one book, then make it this one. It is not only eye-opening, insightful and full of content, it is also funny. I laughed and learned a lot.

What is User Story Mapping? It is a technique he developed over time and with experience, which helps writing effective user stories for a product backlog. In fact, the crucial point here is not writing them but living them and making them happen together with your team. The stories have value as long as there is a shared understanding for them among the team and the stakeholders, i.e. that they make sense and the same sense to everybody on the team. So much so that they want to to deliver it.

User Stories are typically little stories composed of a sequence of tasks that a user of a (software) product would do to accomplish something. For example, a user story can be “Reserve a Thai Restaurant online for tonight” and it would consist of the following following tasks: Open your favorite search engine — Search for a Thai Restaurant — Select your favorite — Visit the restaurant website — Click on online reservation — Enter reservation date and time — Confirm and send. Now this is a very basic illustration of a story, but it can give you the idea. The tasks in the story are to be read from left to right, in the so called narrative order, so that with the last task you read you know the whole story.

Why is User Story Mapping good a thing? Because it gives structure and a backbone to the your product development process. It helps you to frame the who, the what and the why for your product. In other words, it lets you define your users, your product, and the benefit your users will get out of your product. All makes sense, no? Otherwise why would you bother producing your product?

User Story Mapping’s structure is like this:  On the way to developing your product you have several Goals to achieve. Each one of these Goals are composed of Activities, and those are broken into Stories. A sequence of Tasks in a given order (left-to-right) make a Story. Tasks may have Subtasks (e.g. putting on my shoes is a subtask of getting dressed). In this way, a Story can but doesn’t have to yield  a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but a few of them together should yield at least a Minimum Viable Solution (MVS).

If there are too many Stories, then there are potentially multiple MVPs (or MVS for that matter). So those Stories should wait the next iteration(s) to be included.

A User Story typically has the following format: As a <Role> I want to <Functionality> so that I can <Value>. For example, as a <jazz music fan> I would like to <know the weekly concerts in my town>, so that I can <buy tickets online automatically>. This format conveys the necessary information in a clear and concise way. It gives a first overview of what the system has to offer for that type of user (also called Persona) i.e. the jazz music fan.

For the fun of it, I did a User Story Map for myself, while hoping it can show you its power. It shows the structure that I have been describing. My product is: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona. This product offers me a new life at a new city, therefore I think it will add a lot of value to my life in general. I expect it to be a wonderful product and this is the User Story Map towards the first MVP.

Product: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona
Goal: Release new life in Barcelona
Activities:
Activity 1: Set up social life
Story 1.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Rent a Flat> so that I can <Live>
Task 1.1.1: Search for flats to rent
Task 1.1.2: Make appointments for visits
Task 1.2.3: Sign contract
Story 1.2: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find Friends> so that I can <Socialize>
Task 1.2.1: Find relevant social events
Task 1.2.2: Visit social events
Task 1.2.3: Join hobby clubs
Task 1.2.4: Exchange contacts with participants/members at the events
Story 1.3: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Learn Spanish> so that I can <Communicate>
Task 1.3.1: Find a language school
Task 1.3.2: Register to the language school
Task 1.3.3: Follow classes
Task 1.3.4: Do homework
Activity 2: Set up professional life
Story 2.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find a Job> so that I can <Get an Income>
Task 1.3.1: Prepare CV
Task 1.3.2:Search for relevant vacancies
1.3.2.1: Subtask: Search on the Web
1.3.2.2: Subtask: Search among the personal network
Task 1.3.3:  Apply for the vacancy
Task 1.3.4: Go to interview
Task 1.3.5: Sign contract

User Story Mapping is a fun and powerful tool to create and structure your stories towards your first MVP. The book itself, besides being fun, brings you closer to the principles of Lean.  Hope you discover it for yourself as well and drop me line if you do so 🙂

 If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Orson Welles

My/Your Next Job

I now have been in an intensive process of looking for a job, applying, interviewing etc. Much reflection and experience have accumulated, which I want to share. I hope it helps you if you are going through the same process.

Here is what I learned for myself:

Knowing who you are: It is as simple and as difficult as it sounds. When we go to an interview we bring ourselves. We are expected to talk about us. So, we really need to know who we are, otherwise we are wasting our host’s time and ours as well. For me who I am, for the purposes of an interview, has two main pillars. One is what I can do for the company/organization professionally. What skills and experience do I bring to the company that it needs? How can I help the company make a difference with my experience and expertise? For example, “I am an IT Program/Product Manager with more than 10 years of experience in delivering products and running and evaluating projects. I have done this at global enterprises and organizations in the software and life sciences industries.” So I can help them run IT projects and develop IT products, and I can do it fluently also in the pharma industry, which is always a bit different. It would be best if I can additionally help the company explore new horizons  with what I bring in. New opportunities, new markets, new customers.

The other, and equally important pillar, is what are our values? What is important for us as a person, not as workforce.  We spend the bigger portion of our daily lives in our work environment. Whether we like to think of it that way or not, it is our family. Can you think of being a part of a family, whose values you do not share? I don’t. That’s why it is important to express our personal values, understand the company’s values and see if they are aligned. For example, for me respect, transparency, trust, open communication, humbleness, integrity and good will are extremely important. To me having a good social cause, helping the ones who are underprivileged are very important. As result I have preferred to work in the life sciences and healthcare sector over working at the finance sector. In the same way I will always linger longer in the teams where both negative and positive experiences are discussed openly and with good will. I will run away from the ones where shaming, blaming, fingerpointing and intrigues are common practices, even if the pay is very well. These are my values, these are what I bring in and look for.  It requires time and reflection to understand who we really are, but once we know the answer, I believe finding what we look for is so much easier.

Knowing what you want: Of course we all want a steady income, stability, routine and being able to say “Yes, I have a job”. It is only human. Still it is important to know exactly what we want and go only for that. If it is something temporary just to get an income we should be aware of it. If we want a career and have aspirations we should acknowledge it. If we value money over convenience it is good to keep it in mind. If we prefer a friendly working atmosphere to everything else we should prioritize it. It is very helpful to reflect on what we actually want and what fulfills us, so that we can be selective about the positions we apply. In this way we don’t randomly apply for just about anything which will show during the interview if we get selected at all. Instead we know how to position ourselves and speak confidently about why we are there.

A short CV: Definitely not more than 2 pages. I know this is very hard if you are an experienced professional. It feels like everything is important, which it is.  It is about you and your life and accomplishments. My earlier CV was a 6 page monster. Yet, realistically we are only one in the bucket of a million applicants. The recruiter is also only a human with limited time and resources. So we have to help him/her, otherwise s/he has no other choice to move on to the next shorter CV on his/her monster deck of applications. It is good to only mention the positions relevant  to what we are applying for. Surely this is much more work for us, but it pays off.

Customizing: Have you heard about Applicant Tracking Systems? This is an HR software that handles CVs before it gets to a human. It parses the CVs to extract keywords to compare them with those from the job description. Only when your CV passes a certain overlap threshold a human eye gets to see it. This means that we have to customize our CVs for each and every position we apply for to convince the software in the first place. Ideally, we reuse the keywords from the job description in the CV to  reach the optimal overlap. It goes without saying that I would put only those things that I am skilled at otherwise it would be asserting untruth. In other words, I write down things which I can defend and exemplify during the interview.

Being authentic: What really pays off, I think, is being authentic. I have heard this so many times from senior managers during my career. I admired it. Yet, I can say it is only now that I also truly understand and value it. Being authentic at work is not easy, because  after all we need money, stability and recognition. It seems an easy way to get there is to blend in. Going with the crowds, doing what the others do, not falling off. In the long term though this is not good. As human beings we are all unique and have our individual characters and values. This is what makes us us. If we compromise on it, we compromise on ourselves as humans, and no job is worth it. I learned for myself, given that I can afford it i.e. no children nor sick people depend on my salary to survive, I will not work for a company that does not share my values. I prefer to work for a company/institution that has a social cause than one that does not. I will not take a job, in which I do not find meaning, only for the sake of money. I will not compromise on my values and integrity. I learned that if I stay loyal to myself and to that what makes me me, I have the chance to contribute my best to the company I work for and that shines genuinely.

Embracing rejection: Not getting a position, being turn down after an interview is not a personal failure. There are so many factors that contribute to the decision of a company whether to hire or not. The budget may be cut, the managers might be leaving, the position might have been promised to someone internally long ago. Or we just don’t fit with the company culture, which is totally fine. It means the company culture doesn’t fit with us either. Would you want to spend your everyday with someone, who you do not understand and appreciate? Would you choose to marry someone who you do not love? It is the same thing. So rejection is not rejection as such, but it is an opportunity for us to understand ourselves better so that we will still have the chance to find the right match. It is an opportunity to grow personally.

Not overselling and underselling oneself: We all put ourselves out there. We want to look good, smart, we want to be accepted, we want to convince. It is so easy to overdo this during the interview within the intensity of the moment. One more skill to add up, one more little success story to share…However, recruiters and hiring managers are also humans, and they have been there where we are now. All day They keep seeing many other candidates, who tell that they are “oh so great”. I think, also here being authentic, being modest but self-confident is the best approach. Just to tell what is relevant to the question, and to undermine it with credible facts and numbers. A small anecdote may help, but not to each and every question. Having said this, overdone modesty is not good either. We all have lived, worked and accomplished things in our lives, that we consider as success and we are proud of them. Why hold back on those? Isn’t it wonderful to share those experience with others? Maybe our experiences can help them in their current situation, or at least make them smile. Isn’t a smile worth a try?

These have been the major topics that I had to reflect on for myself. I will share others as I accumulate them.