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Last updated on 10/10/23

Plan Releases using Story Maps

The first step to creating a story map is adding activities and tasks in chronological order to form the backbone of the story map.

The next step is to add the user stories from your product backlog. Do this by adding each story vertically underneath the task that it helps the user do.

Planning Releases

You can enhance your map further to sketch out which batches of user stories comprise a release, that is a set of functionality that makes sense to release at the same time.

In order to leverage your user story map to plan releases, adopt the following four step process:

  1. Prioritize user stories.

  2. Create swim lanes for each release.

  3. Write a target outcome for each release.

  4. Use sprint planning (story points and velocity) to calculate release dates.

1. Prioritize User Stories

The first step to planning releases is to prioritize the user stories.

Don't prioritize the backbone (i.e. the epics). Assume that all items are necessary. However, prioritize so that the highest priority user stories are toward the top.

You could visualize it like this:

Order User Stories by priority
Order user stories by priority.

You might be wondering why you would prioritize user stories (i.e. tasks) and not the epics (i.e. activities) in the backbone?

Agile consultant and authorJeff Patton describes it like this:

When it’s time to plan releases, it’s usually not important to prioritize backbone items against each other. For instance if I were to build a high level backlog for a car it might look something like this:

  • engine

  • transmission

  • brakes

  • suspension

  • etc.

It would be stupid to ask stakeholders to prioritize that: “what’s more important, the engine or the transmission?” – or “we don’t have enough time in this release, could we release without brakes and add them later?” These items are essential – and we’ll need all of them to deliver a minimum viable product – an MVP.

This explains quite nicely why you prioritize user stories but not epics in your backbone!

2. Create Swim Lanes for each release

The next step is to plan your releases. The best way to do this is to draw lines (you can use masking   tape!). These horizontal lines create "swim lanes" for each release.

Move your user stories (up and down) to form collections (or batches) that would be the most important to build.

In the following diagram you can see the swim lanes (the space between the red lines) that defined release 1, 2, and 3.

Release Slices
Release groupings of user stories.

3. Write a Target Outcome for each release

Target outcomes that you want to achieve for each release.

In the moving apartments example, it might be that:

  1. Once the user stories in release one are complete, the user could determine how much moving would cost. This would be an example of a target outcome - "That user can determine cost of moving."

  2. Once the user stories in release two are complete, you would know that it is possible on a certain date (e.g. Saturday 15th May). This would be another example of target outcome - that "The user can verify availability of services on their chosen date."

The target outcome is then written on an index card or sticky note and added to the user story map.

4. Use Sprint Planning to Calculate Release Dates

You saw in a previous chapter how to use story point estimates and velocity when calculating the number of sprints required to complete all of the user stories in a release.

Allocate user stories to sprints until the total points in the estimates hits the allowable limit (i.e. your team's velocity).

That gives release plan that is highly visual and based on Agile estimation techniques.

A user story map with sprint planning
A user story map with sprint planning.

The user story map gives you the following information:

  • The first release date is after sprint three is completed (whatever date that is).

  • The second release date is set for after sprint five is completed. 

  • The third release can be scheduled for after sprint six is completed.


  • In order to leverage your user story map to plan releases, adopt the following four step process:

    • Prioritize user stories.

    • Create swim lanes for each release.

    • Write a target outcome for each release.

    • Use sprint planning (story points and velocity) to calculate release dates.

  • If you have estimates for each story in points, and you know the team's velocity, you can calculate delivery dates for the releases on your user story map.

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