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Author: Jason Greatrex

LEANing into Service Delivery with User Story Mapping

Canadian winter weekends bring snow, shoveling, – and those of us with tiny tikes, Little League Hockey.

Nothing says Little League Hockey, like weekend hockey tournaments. During these weekend getaways, travelling along highways to arenas, hotels, cities, and back again we invariably hit a few Tim Hortons coffee shops. (Perhaps, too many, as a successful tournament means several stops a day for the parental coffee fix!) Although each Tim Hortons is a standard franchise, offering the same products, the customer service experience can vary substantially.

Experiencing such inconsistencies and inefficiencies instinctively activates our Business Analyst training. What is the situational problem? How can we re-engineer this process for better service delivery effectiveness? If improving the process, leads to delivering a better service, then immediately, two tools and techniques spring to mind: User Story Mapping and LEAN improvement methodology.

Provide a Customer-Centric Approach

By using a User Story Mapping technique, you provide a customer-centric perspective to the problem. User Story Mapping is about building a narrative from the user’s perspective. This storyline traditionally describes using a product; however, the flexibility in this tool allows the technique to be equally transferrable to describing a process flow or delivering a service like serving coffee and Timbits. For practitioners, not acquainted with User Story Mapping and its approach, an in-depth description can be found in Jeff Patton’s book, “User Story Mapping” is a must have BA resource.

At a high-level, User Story Mapping is a collaborative team technique that begins first with individual experiences. Team members express their own personal experiences using a product, performing a process, or delivering service. Describing an individual’s own perspective, each participant writes their activities on separate Post-It notes. These actions take on the structural format of verb-noun or action-object, like “greet customer,” “add sugar,” or “pour coffee.”

Develop a Shared Understanding

After individual experiences are captured on multiple Post-It notes, the team comes together to build a narrative, combining these separate users experiences into a single collective story. Collectively, team members stick their Post-It notes up on a wall. The storyline they create resembles a book, starting at the left and finishing on the right. At this stage, the team works collaboratively to map a “collective” narrative of the service, discussing, and collectively designing and understanding the overall big picture from these various detailed tasks. This activity creates a chronologically organized story, mapping the processes activities and, the outcomes of service delivered, including a shared understanding and agreement among the team.

Apply LEAN Methodology

This collective narrative sets the team up for reflective analysis of the processes they perform and the services they deliver. Standing back, looking at the entire process from end-to-end, both a high-level overview and multiple detailed actions create the stage to apply LEAN methodology. LEAN by its core definition is the elimination of waste. Thus, LEAN methodology focuses on reducing activities that do not add value to the customer, such as unnecessary work, extra work, or rework. For example, when analyzing the process in preparing a customer’s coffee, is the employee’s environment set up with readily available milk, cream, sugar, stir sticks, and lids? Having these items easily accessible means the employees need not move to another location and therefore are not wasting time or energy with additional work. Another key LEAN principle that compliments User Story Mapping is that both methodologies focus on the customer. Applying LEAN improvements always come from the customer’s perspective. In LEAN literature, this customer’s perspective is called the “Voice of the Customer.”


With a service story expressed from a customer’s viewpoint and an eye for reducing and removing unnecessary work, the team is in a position to deconstruct the service. One approach to help the team focus on identifying only its service essentials tasks involves placing a line of tape directly under all the Post-It notes on the wall. Next, team members are asked, if you were limited on time and resources what and how would you provide this service in the shortest and most efficient time possible. Then place those essential actions written on Post-It notes below that tapeline.

Establish a Minimum Viable Process-Service

This tape line acts as a visual separator, or a demarcation point, where all current activities described are above the tape line and, those tasks posted below, are the essential elements needed to deliver that service. The activities underneath the line represent its minimum viable process (MVP) or — in the context of a service — its minimum viable service. This identification and deconstruction process translates as the least amount of effort to deliver a service to the customer. As a unit, the team can step back, observe, communication, and collectively flesh out where excessive work may be occurring in their processes.

This parsing down exercise takes on an iterative and incremental form. Few processes are refined immediately.

Experimenting must occur, physically moving the Post-It pieces around the wall finding efficiencies and improving process flow. The delivery of an effective service is all about improving the process that delivers that service. This collaborative exercise translates value back to the customer, the end-user of the service. The MVP point, although an effective outcome, can also act as the starting point in the processes continuous improvement cycle, a baseline from which a team can incrementally build up their processes and services incrementally, evaluating, analyzing, and adding what is important.
Increasing the success rate for people accepting process re-engineering and adopting continuous improvement techniques are dependent on defining a common purpose and building commitment from those involved. The User Story Mapping technique is a natural and simple platform for facilitating and supporting collaboration between people and teams while deconstructing a process from a customer’s perspective with a common goal focus. If services delivered are defined by their process, then the procedures behind how Tim Hortons staff brew, package, pour and pass coffee to the customer reflects the service provided and perceived by customers. Thus, by refining the process, you can improve the service. Applying the user story mapping technique and LEAN methodology improvements do that.

In improving the process, you improve the service — are you improving your processes to better your service delivery? Buy a coffee and see for yourself!