and experience maps — sophisticated visualizations of people’s interactions over time with products and services — are all the rage in design and strategy (product and marketing alike). After being advocated for over a decade by proponents of human-centered design and design thinking as a means to empathize with people’s experiences with products and services, has become a tactic in high-demand for organizations of every size and of every kind.

Source: Google Trends

While journey maps have gained in popularity, the teams commissioning and producing journey maps often face a challenge in ensuring that journey mapping merits the often significant effort. When you look back at detritus left in your journey mapping workshop’s windowless conference room — the flip-charts filled with Sharpie scribbles, crumpled Lacroix cans, and the seemingly endless column upon column of Post-its — how might you have confidence that it was worth it? And what might you do before undertaking a journey mapping project to ensure that its output actually makes a difference?

There are a few simple steps to take to ensure success in journey mapping:

1) Define the scope of the journey.

The scope of journey maps can be understood through two lenses:

  1. The duration of the journey. On the one end of the spectrum, you describe a specific task or job to be done: Buy a phone. Rend a movie. Adopt a puppy. Repair a flat tire. And at the other end of the spectrum, the complete lifecycle of a relationship with a product or service: Subscribe to and use a video streaming service. Own a dog. Own a car.
  2. The number of channels or platforms, ranging from a single touchpoint — e.g., website or app (or feature or section therein), physical store, etc. — to the comprehensive suite of channels and platforms that people might use.

A journey map that aims to describe the complete customer lifecycle across each and every touchpoint is obviously (one might hope) a substantial undertaking. Is this something you really want to tackle in a two-hour workshop on a Friday afternoon? What do you hope to achieve from it? Do you have all the data necessary to adequately inform the journey? It’s crucial to ensure that you appropriately match resources (time, personnel, and other costs) with the level of effort necessary for your desired journey’s scope — otherwise, you risk missing broad swathes of essential information. A superficial, under-informed journey that captures only the obvious is usually a waste.

Consider your scope and plan for the appropriate level of effort and resources vis-a-vis your goals:

2) Define the goals for the journey map.

Journey maps generally serve two purposes, which can be pursued independently or in tandem:

  1. Synthesis: the collation and synthesis of data and insights
  2. Ideation: the description of opportunities and ideas

These can either happen actively and collectively — e.g., in workshops — or asynchronously, as part of an ongoing effort by individuals or teams to create a map as part of a deliverable.

If you are using journey mapping as part of a workshop, make sure that your journey’s scope (see step 1 above) and the range of data that you hope to map is reasonable for your team to work through in the time allotted, and that your team has the domain expertise to do so. Then, make sure that you are clear about the output of the workshop: are you gathering data? Are you ideating solutions? Or are you doing both? What purpose will the read-out of the workshop serve? If you’re seeking to synthesize data and insights for the entire customer lifecycle across all channels and then brainstorm solutions, a single workshop might not be the right format.

Instead, consider and plan for specific outcomes: if you are aiming to synthesize data, a reasonable goal might be to create a range of research opportunities to fill in gaps. If you’re aiming to ideate, a reasonable goal might be to write a creative brief (or briefs). Keeping your goals focused, limited, and realistic is the best way to ensure that a journey mapping workshop actually produces useful actions.

Too often, journey mapping is looked at as solely a workshop exercise, or a deliverable for a one-off presentation in order to impress the audience with its (supposed) comprehensive scope and insight. However, the full potential of journey maps is realized when, in addition to being tool for workshops, it is seen as an asset that has recurring value to teams over time: first to capture insights, then to organize tactics, and then to revisit strategies to iterate and optimize. This requires approaching journey maps as living documents as opposed to static outputs — and, most importantly, having a clear and cogent perspective on what actions your journey map is designed to inform and orchestrate.

For journey mapping to be successful, carefully consider your working relationship with them:

3) Separate data synthesis from visualization

Customer journey maps are, at their most basic level, data visualizations. As such, it’s important to separate data gathering from the translation of that data into its visual presentation. It’s easy to confuse the design of a journey map with the essential underlying work of gathering and organizing the data that comprises a visualized journey map.

The first step of constructing any journey map is to create its organizing framework: what are the steps in the journey? What qualitative and quantitative data might be mapped to those steps? What channels and touch-points are relevant? The answer to these questions is entirely contextual — meaning, you should resist the urge to follow any generic journey mapping template that you haven’t created or adapted to your unique needs. Resist the urge to take the expedient shortcut of repurposing somebody else’s journey template wholesale, and instead take the time to plot out a framework that reflects what’s most relevant to your challenges and the particular users you’re aiming to serve. If you are starting from an existing template, take the time to refine or adapt it, removing unnecessary categories of data, or adding ones that are unique to your goals.

There are a number of new journey-mapping tools that promise to make the creation of journeys faster, easier, and more effective. I won’t evaluate them here — they all have their merits and shortcomings — but will suggest that the easiest and most useful place to start is to use tools you likely already have at your disposal: Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Both of these tools will allow you to collaborate with teammates to gather and organize both qualitative and quantitative data into a framework which can then be used to create visually compelling presentation of that data. (At POSSIBLE, we create shared Excel spreadsheets in Microsoft Teams, which allows us to collaborate on the synthesis of data and then to have text conversations in the same space; Slack and Google Sheets integrate in the same way, if your team uses those tools.)

It’s important to note that this approach of separating data synthesis from design requires that you have a graphic designer well-versed in Edward Tufte’s canon to translate your data into a clear and cogent visualization — but separating data-gathering from its presentation is the best way to ensure that your journey map amplifies the points that you want it to make.

A talented graphic designer will ensure that the visualization of your journey is appropriate to its uses and audiences:

4) Don’t forget: the most important part of your journey map are the actions it informs

As Dwight Eisenhower famously quipped, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Likewise, the act of gathering and organizing your data into a journey map, and what you learn during this process, is usually as important the output itself. Journey mapping can be an indispensable and inspiring way to better understand and describe your users’ needs, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, and how your organization is (and isn’t) supporting them — but only if you use it appropriately, and only if you ensure that they produce clearly understood actions, such as a research plan, feature prioritization or the definition of an MVP, a product roadmap, a creative brief, and so on.

The next time somebody proposes journey mapping as a silver bullet for solving business problems, on it unless the map is being approached in a way that will ensure that it will directly inform the strategies and tactics that will actively make difference in the lives of customers, and inspires actual action.

Remember: no customer can themselves use a journey map, only the things it informs and inspires.

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