Introduction to SpecMap

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SpecMap is a story mapping tool for Team Services. Use SpecMap to structure your work items visually and organize your development teams.

What is a Story Map?

Story maps provide a great basis for discussing the needs of your users, and prioritising development to deliver the biggest impact. A typical story map has a hierarchic structure involving user activities and user stories. The story maps tell stories from the user’s perspective and represents the user’s progress through the system as a series of activities.

In order for a user to achieve a goal, the user needs to perform a series of activities (browse for books, add books to the cart, enter shipping details, complete payment etc.). These activities are arranged to depict the user’s typical progresses through the process from left to right; activities on the left are typically carried out before those on the right.


Each activity can be further broken down into smaller chunks, which are the user stories themselves. For example, browsing for books may involve searching the product catalog, viewing details and reviews of the books, and viewing other recommended books related to the current product.


Once the user stories have been discussed and defined, the next step is to prioritize development to deliver the biggest impact possible over the next development cycle. User stories that relate to the same activity are prioritized vertically, with more important stories at the top and less important stories lower down. This priority applies to all activities and should take into account factors such as dependent features (e.g. you cannot add products to the shopping cart if you cannot view products), as well as the needs of end users. Items on the same vertical level are referred to as “slices”, and typically represent one development cycle or sprint.



If you are interested in finding out more about story mapping, we recommend reading User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton.


What is SpecMap?

Story maps are traditionally created using sticky notes on walls or whiteboards and have proven to be popular amongst agile development teams. However these traditional story boards are not without their disadvantages: walls are not transportable and the physical nature of these maps mean they are only temporary. Capturing the story board in an electronic format for archiving is often achieved by taking a photo of the story board.


SpecMap takes your walls and whiteboards into the digital age, allowing you to create story maps directly within TFS, and to link items on your story map to your backlog in TFS. Your story map is thus only a click away for your development team, and its electronic nature makes archiving easy. Furthermore, your story map can adapt to your development cycle and customer requirements as you progress simply by updating existing items or adding new ones.


SpecMap otherwise mimics traditional story maps with sticky notes: you can arrange items horizontally and vertically and easily create slices. But SpecMap goes further, and helps you structure your backlog items as you go. User stories assigned to a particular activity are automatically set as child items of the parent activity, and assigning an item to a particular slice automatically assigns the item to the iteration/sprint assigned to that slice. If you need to update the story map at a later date, for example to move an item to a different sprint, your changes are automatically applied to your backlog.