A Journey Map is a visual tool that documents the process a person goes through to complete a goal. Empathising with how your users think, feel, and act is the first step in building a best-in-class digital experience.

As an exercise, Journey Mapping is an invaluable part of digital product design and development. It does, however, require careful consideration and coordination to make sure that the exercise creates an accurate and actionable map that guides your product team towards the right product.

In the first part of a new series of articles, we will explore the fundamentals of Journey Mapping. We will break down the benefits of mapping out your user journey and the steps you should take to ensure it’s a success.

We will also introduce the process that we’ve developed from a decade of collaborating with ambitious organisations to build the right products that make people’s lives better.

What is a User Journey Map?

A user journey map is a way of visualising the actions that a user takes to achieve a goal. While this may begin as a step-by-step time-line, by the end of the exercise the Journey Map incorporates emotions and expectations which makes it much more than just a timeline.

A journey map is a focused narrative that anyone within a team can quickly understand and, more importantly, empathise with.

While journey maps come in all shapes and sizes, three components are typically constant. A journey map should always contain:

  • The Lens
  • The Experience
  • The Insights

Combined, this visual document informs better strategic and product decisions.

The Lens

To provide enough insight so that it’s valuable to your business, a user journey should always focus on a specific persona or ‘actor’ as it is often referred to during the journey mapping process. This is the ‘Lens.’

Take a typical leisure complex, for example. Its offering is diverse. Customers can be gym members, racket sports players, or swimmers. They could come for activities, classes, or to use the nursery.

Every single one of these offerings has a set of actors. And each actor could have its own Journey Map. The more specific your criteria, the more useful the resulting journey map will be.

The alternative to this would be what we call an Experience Map. This would document the generic process a typical leisure complex customer follows. Meanwhile, using the same example, a User Journey Map would answer the question:

“What is the journey of a middle-aged, out-of-shape ex-swimmer who wants to get back into the water so that they can live a long and healthy life?”

The Experience

Once the criteria have been established within the lens, the experience section maps the actions users take and the touchpoints where they interact with your product. Each touch-point is then expanded to include the emotions, expectations, delightful moments, and pain points that users experience.

The Insights

The final section of a journey map is also the most important: the insights. This is a comprehensive list of the biggest opportunities available to you. It highlights the areas where your product, platform, or experience can add the most value to your users’ lives with the least effort on your part.

The insights of a journey map dictate the order in which you attack development.

The Benefits of Journey Mapping

A User Journey Map allows you to see your product, platform, or experience from a user’s point of view. In a time when expectations are rising rapidly across every single sector, this has never been more mission-critical. 

A detailed map gives you valuable visibility across different stages of your customer journey or your employee experience. You can look at specific actions and touchpoints under a microscope. The more you understand about each action, the easier it is to empathise with your users.

You will be able to document the delightful moments which you already provide so that you can continue providing them. But, more importantly, you will also start to see the gaps between what your users want or expect and their actual end-experience.  

This doesn’t just encourage a much more empathetic approach to digital product design. It helps to align your organisation against what matters: creating value that leads to long-term growth.

Driving Long-Term Growth

This is a common challenge that many organisations face as they scale. Learnings, processes, and success metrics all become siloed. Sales and Marketing focus on customer acquisition. Accounts and Support on retention. Operations on efficiency and so on. At no point is anyone tasked with looking at the entire experience from a user’s perspective. 

This is what a User Journey Map does best. It provides insight that is invaluable for supporting design, development, and strategic decisions. Yes, a User Journey Map can help product teams to focus efforts on features that provide the most value with the least effort. It can also help:

  • Sales & Marketing to tailor campaigns that resonate with buyers’ ambitions. 
  • Customer Support to address common pain points proactively.
  • Operations to develop processes that remove employees’ frustrations. 

And across all this, a User Journey Map provides a set of tangible touchpoints to track quantitative KPIs which can further support these strategic decisions and effect change.

A User Journey Map is an incredibly powerful tool for any team no matter what the size. It is an invaluable aspect of not just effective product design but of core business strategy. 

Successful Journey Mapping

As we’ve said before, journey maps come in all shapes and sizes. A successful journey mapping exercise is about more than just including the right components, though. It takes work to keep the process on the right track, particularly as more stakeholders become involved and more voices

Below are a few tips to make sure your map achieves what you set out to do:

Set a specific scope. Be clear on what you want to accomplish from the very beginning. Build a focused business case that tells your internal stakeholders what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’ll use the output.

Base it on facts, not assumptions. Talk to your users and gather research before beginning your mapping workshop. Just make sure you don’t get lost in the data. Use it as a tool to inform decisions and nothing more. 

Involve others. We often find that simply the activity of getting a cross-section of stakeholders together into the same room is as valuable as the journey map itself. Make sure the map is not a siloed activity. Even people not involved with the process directly should be able to easily understand the output.

Take action on what you learn. Prioritise the opportunities you uncover. Weigh up the effort and impact associated with each feature you devise. Use your learnings to fuel your roadmap.

We will explore all of these concepts in more detail throughout the playbook. And the process we follow guarantees that every single one is. If, however, you end up adapting the framework then it’s important to keep these tips in mind if you want to keep the process on track.

“Set a specific scope. Base it on facts, not assumptions. Involve others. And take action on what you learn.”

The Journey Mapping Process

Different people will break the journey mapping process down into different steps. It often depends on the context behind the journey map. Is the purpose to better define a product idea? Is it part of a company-wide digital transformation initiative?

At Sonin, we find that four high-level stages always apply: Scope, Prepare, Map, and Act.

The first stage, scoping, is incredibly important to keep focused throughout the process. As we talked about earlier, a journey map should always be specific and clearly defined.

This is what scoping is for. It’s the time to agree on the organisation’s goals, the target persona you want to map for, and the situation that you want to explore.

The next stage, planning, is when you gather the team, the tools, and the supporting data that you need to achieve your chosen scope.  Based on all this, you can then create a custom agenda for your journey mapping workshop to ensure you capture all the necessary insights during each exercise. 

Once you have a scope and a plan, you can begin mapping out your user journey from start-to-finish, recording the desired outcomes and pain points at each touch-point throughout.

The final stage is then acting on the insights from your user journey map. To do this, you will need to work with your team to prioritise all the opportunities for your business.

As mentioned, different people will break the process down differently. Following these four stages, however, ensures that you not only successfully map your user journey but get the most value from it.

In the next article, we will break down how to set realistic goals for journey mapping, how to build memorable personas that every participant can empathise with, and how to balance breadth with depth for an achievable and actionable journey map.