Experiment with Example Mapping

At Agile 2015, I learned about example mapping from Matt Wynne. Linda Rising’s session reinforced my enthusiasm to continue doing small, frugal experiments.I came back to work the following week feeling like it would be pretty easy to try an experiment with example mapping.

Example Example Map from JoEllen Carter (testacious.com)
Example Example Map from JoEllen Carter (testacious.com)

You can use example mapping in your specification workshops, Three Amigos meetings (more on that below), or whatever format your team uses to discuss upcoming stories with your product owner and/or business stakeholders. Write the story on a yellow index card. Write business rules or acceptance criteria on blue index cards. For each business rule, write examples of desired and undesired behavior on green index cards. Questions are going to come up that nobody in the room can answer right now – write those on red cards. That’s all there is to it!

The problem

My team was experiencing a high rate of stories being rejected because of missing capabilities, and our cycle time was longer than we’d like. I asked our product owner (PO) if we could experiment with a new approach to our pre-Iteration Planning Meetings (IPM).

Up to this point, our “pre-IPM” (pre-Iteration Planning Meeting) meetings were a bit slapdash and hurried. The PO, the development anchor and me met shortly before the IPM went quickly through the stories that would be discussed. There wasn’t a lot of time to think of questions to ask.

Our experiment

For our new experiment, we decided to try a “Three Amigos” (coined by George Dinwiddie) or what Janet Gregory and I call  “Power of Three” approach. This is also similar to Gojko Adzic’s specification workshops. In our case it was Four Amigos. We decided to have our pre-IPM meeting time boxed to one hour, and hold it two business days before the IPM. The PO, designer, tester and developer anchor gathered to discuss the stories that would be discussed and estimated in the IPM. Our goal was to build a base of shared understanding that we could build on in the IPM, so that when testing and coding starts on a story, everyone knows what capabilities are needed.

We tried out example mapping as a way to learn more about each story ahead of the IPM. Now, I’ve practiced example-driven development since I learned about it from Brian Marick back around 2003. So, I was surprised how effective it is to add rules along with the examples. The truth is, you can’t write adequate tests and code just from a few examples – you need the business rules too.

Since we have remote team members,using Matt Wynne’s color-coded index cards wouldn’t work for us. We tried using CardboardIt with its virtual index cards, but it proved a bit slow and awkward for our purpose. Since our product is Pivotal Tracker, a SaaS project tracking tool, we decided to try using it for the examples, rules and questions. For our planning meetings, we share the Tracker project screen in the Zoom video meeting for remote participants, so putting our example maps in text in our Tracker stories is a natural enough fit for us.

We’ve iterated on our Amigos meeting techniques over several months now. We don’t example map every story. For example, design stories may be covered well enough with the Invision design doc. What’s important is that we are chipping away at the problem. Feedback from my teammates is that they have a much better understanding of each story before we even start talking about it in the IPM. There may still be questions and conversations about the story, but it’s going deeper into the story capabilities because the basics are already there. And, our story rejection rate has gone down, as has our cycle time!

A template for structuring a conversation

During the pre-IPM “amigos” meeting, each story gets a goal/purpose, rules, examples, and maybe a scenario or two. We found that the purpose or goal is crucial – what value will this story deliver? The combination of rules and examples that illustrate them provides the right information to write business-facing tests that guide development. Here’s an example of our example mapping outcomes in a Tracker story:

ExampleMap example
Example mapping outcomes captured in a Tracker story


Devs use the info to help them write tests to guide dev. Ideally (at least in my opinion), those would be Cucumber BDD tests. The example map provides personas and scenarios along with the rules. However, sometimes it makes more sense to leverage existing functional rspec tests or Jasmine unit tests for the JS.

As a developer pair start working a story, they have a conversation with one or more testers, so that we’re all on the same page. When questions come up, we reconvene the Amigos to discuss them.

User stories act as a placeholder for a conversation. Techniques like example mapping help structure those conversations and ensure that everyone on the delivery team shares the customer’s understanding of the capabilities that story should provide. Since we’re a distributed team, we want a place to keep detailed-enough results of those conversations. Putting example maps in stories is working really well for that.

Example mapping is straightforward and easy to try out. Ask your team to try it out with your Amigos a day or two before your next iteration planning meeting. If it doesn’t work well for you, there are lots of other techniques you can try out! I hope to cover some of those here in the coming weeks.

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