My biggest mistake when conducting User Story Mapping workshops

User Story Mapping Mistakes

User Story Mapping is an incredible powerful exercise to dismantle product ideas into tangible value drivers and derive an MVP-oriented prioritization from it.
And even though it has become a default framework within my product management set of tools through numerous repetitions, I often times make a mistake which interferes with some of my most important foundations of product development.

Focus on Jobs, not structuring the Product

The most common situation during which I applied user story mapping was when a product idea was already more specified and a lot of workshop participants had a clear image of the product itself in their head.
I am then tempted to directly structure the product itself, instead of using story mapping the way it is intended to be used: Focussing and prioritizing necessary features by working through the user journey expressed in jobs.
While this may doesn’t sound that different at first, it becomes more obvious when I tell you that my first level on the map doesn’t consist of user jobs (like ‘Manage E-Mail’) but product sections (e.g. ‘dashboard’ or ‘settings’).

This way, the stage is set for complete chaos. All participants start to argue in which section a feature needs to be put and thereby inevitably touch on design discussions as well.
While the lower levels and the release/mvp prioritization of the story map then look the same as by the book, a group of people which absolutely shouldn’t design the product, did so just because I set them up to do it.

If I had focussed on the jobs on the first level, the structure of the product would have remained a neutral exercise to be tackled by the product designer later on. We would have focussed on user value and the right prioritization for a high chance to reach problem-solution fit.

The Alternative: The Story Slicing Workshop

The problem is that when you’re that late in the product creation process (late meaning lots of specific images in the heads of stakeholders), it’s hard to lead them back to start with user jobs. After doing some research, I stumbled upon a different framework which might be better suited to help structuring specific product features: A Story Slicing Workshop.

While this is definitely intended for a much later stage which is closer to development start, I think its structure and setup could work a bit better.

The other alternative (which I’ll pursue as well) is of course to just be much more strict with the facilitation of a user story mapping workshop or respectively pushing for an earlier point in time of a product discovery to conduct one. But I wanted to include the story slicing workshop anyways to point out other hands-on frameworks as well.

What are your experiences with User Story Mapping? At which point in time have you used it and what have been your most important personal learnings?