Collaborative User Story Mapping with Avion and MongoDB

Adam Hughes

#BuiltWithMongoDB

When companies think about their products, they often fall into the trap of planning without truly considering their user’s journey and experience.

Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about products from the customer's perspective.

Avion was founded by James Sear and Tim Ramage with one thing in mind - to provide the most intuitive and enjoyable user story mapping experience for agile teams to use, from product inception to launch (and beyond).

The key, Sear said, is that user story mapping gives you a way of thinking about your product and its features, typically software, from the perspective of your customers or users. This is facilitated by defining things that the user can do (user stories) within the context of your core user journeys.

Built with MongoDB spoke with Sear about the idea of user story mapping, how he and Ramage started Avion, and what it’s been like to work with MongoDB.

Built with MongoDB: What is Avion all about?

James Sear: Avion is a digital user story mapping tool for product teams. It helps them to break down complexity, map out user journeys, build out the entire scope of their product and then decide what to deliver and in what order. It’s a valuable tool that is typically underused. Not everyone understands what story mapping is; as it’s quite a specific technique and you do have to put the time in to learn it in order to get the most out of it. But once you have, there is so much value to be unlocked, in terms of delivering better outcomes for your users, as opposed to just building stuff for the sake of it.

Built with MongoDB: What made you decide to start Avion?

Sear: My co-founder Tim Ramage and I met around 2014, and we were jointly involved in teams that were building lots of different software products for various companies, both big and small. And while we were very involved in their technical implementation, we were also both really interested in the product management side of delivery, because it’s just so crucial to be successful. That includes everything from UX decisions, product roadmapping prioritization, customer feedback, metrics, managing the team, it all really interested us.

However, one thing that we found a particularly difficult part of the process, was taking your clients’ big ideas and translating them into some sort of actionable development plan. We tried a few different approaches for this, until we stumbled across a technique called user story mapping. User story mapping manages to pull together all of your core user journeys, the scope of all features that could be built, and how you plan to deliver them. On top of that, it conveys the order in which you should be working on things. Once you have this powerful asset, you can have effective conversations with your team, and answer the most important questions, such as—what’s the minimum we can build to make this valuable to users, where does this feature actually appear for our users or what we are going to build next, and why?.

It really does allow you to communicate more effectively with stakeholders. For instance, you could use it to update your CEO and talk them through what you’re building now, answering those difficult questions like why you’re not building feature X or feature Y. You’ve got this outline right in front of you that makes sense to a product person, a developer, or even an outside stakeholder.

Built with MongoDB: Initially, you started to build out a collaborative tool for product teams, and Avion has evolved into more. What else has changed in your journey at Avion?

Sear: Our goal at launch was to provide our customers with a best-in-class story mapping experience in the browser. This meant nailing the performance and user interaction, so creating a story map just felt fluid and easy. After this, we focused on tightly integrating with more traditional backlog tools, like Jira and Azure DevOps. We always maintain that our customers shouldn’t have to give up their existing tooling to get value from Avion — so we built it to sit in the middle of their stack and assist them with planning and delivery.

Built with MongoDB: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in such a crowded productivity space?

Sear: It’s difficult to stick out amongst the crowd, but our unique value proposition is actually quite niche. This allows us to show our potential customers a different side of product planning that they might not have seen before. And for anyone that already knows about story mapping, Avion is an opinionated and structured canvas for them to just get work done and be productive quickly. Ultimately, we try to stick out by providing value in a vertical slice of product planning that is often overlooked.

Built with MongoDB: What kind of experiences have you had working with MongoDB?

Sear: There have been many scenarios where we’ve been debugging difficult situations with production scaling issues, and we just cannot work out why the apps have gone down overnight. There are so many tricky things that come up when you’re running in production. But we have always managed to find something in MongoDB Atlas that can help us just try and pinpoint that issue, whether it’s some usage graphs, or some kind of metrics that allows us to really dig down into the collections, the queries, and everything so MongoDB has been excellent for that in terms of features.

It just gives you that peace of mind, we’ve had customers delete stuff of their own accord, and get really upset, but we’ve been able to help them by going back to snapshot backups and retrieving that data for them. From a customer support perspective, it’s massive to have that option on the table. MongoDB Atlas is really useful to us and we don’t have to configure anything, it’s just amazing. The MongoDB upgrades are completely seamless, and help us stay on the latest version of the database which is a huge win for security.

Learn more about user story mapping with Avion, and start planning a more user-centric backlog.

Interested in learning more about MongoDB for Startups? Learn more about us on the MongoDB Startups page.