12 Mistakes to Avoid When Journey Mapping

Scott Plewes

Scott Plewes

Chief Strategy Officer

I came across this quote by Thomas Sowell (apparently, he’s a bit of a controversial figure, but I liked the quote).

“When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”

-Thomas Sowell

It made me think that I’ve seen many organizations making customer journeys that are not of sufficient quality to help organizations. Worse, they sometimes look great, which leaves the impression that they are valuable.

I’m not sure why this is. My guess is that it is because journeys are conceptually simple (gather some data on your customers and their experience with your business, visualize it, and then use that to make decisions). To get the gist of a journey takes almost no time at all.

So, how do you know if you are doing your journeys correctly? I’ve made a list of some of the more major mistakes I’ve seen over the years. If many of these are things you didn’t know or didn’t consider, then your journeys may be risky. You might benefit from adjusting the approach you take to capture your journeys or talk to someone who can help avoid these mistakes.

  1. The journey is largely opinion-based or built on secondary data, and (the “and” is important here) this is not seen as a risk by the team, or the nature and degree of risk are not understood.
  2. Failing to understand that a real-life person can actually map onto more than one persona. This comes from the fact that people’s emotional state, context, and activities change over time in real-life journeys, and therefore, the representation (persona) may be different.
  3. Doing the journey at the wrong scale (e.g. product lifecycle, sales funnel only, etc.). Or just not recognizing journeys do exist at different scales (as do personas).
  4. Not incorporating personas correctly into journeys. For instance, not recognizing personas can go in and out of more than one journey.
  5. Undervaluing or not considering transition points in journeys. For example, from product purchase to initial product use. Often, these are areas where organizations are struggling to give positive experiences and may even be systematically creating goals that undermine journeys (see Goodhart’s law if you are interested in how goals can undermine system goals, including user experiences).
  6. Assuming a journey is linear only and does not include when it loops back or has a more “hub and spoke” structure to it
  7. Not spending enough time considering what the most useful visualization of the journey might be for the key audiences.
  8. Failing to share the journey effectively internally. And, even before that, informing people on the what, why, and how of journey mapping and the expectations on how it will impact decision-making in the organization.
  9. In the end not using it to make decisions at all (in design-business-tech). Thinking just making the journey was somehow the goal. While this one might seem unbelievable, I’ve seen it happen.
  10. Creating overly simplistic “one-off” solutions to pain points identified in the journey rather than treating the pain points – and the journey as a whole – as information to be fed into a more holistic design process.
  11. Not revisiting the journey over time or after a major change in context (for example, the pandemic) that would impact the validity of the journey.
  12. Thinking that an organization designs a customer journey. You don’t; you design the service (hence service blueprints), people have journeys that you influence through service design. You can, of course, idealize the journey you want them to have.

Being an expert in journeys means you experienced many of these things, done it right already, made some of these mistakes yourself, and – to the point of the quote that started this – truly want to help others avoid these errors. Find that person. Or maybe you are that person.

I hope this list might help in your conversations about journeys and creating and utilizing them effectively.

Are there any journey mistakes you’d add to this list?

Scott Plewes

Scott Plewes

Chief Strategy Officer

Over the past twenty-five years, Scott has worked in the areas of business strategy, product design and development in the high tech sector with a specialization in experience design. He has extensive cross-sector expertise and experience working with clients in complex regulated industries such as aviation, telecom, health, and finance. His primary area of focus over the last several years has been in product and service strategy and the integration of multi-disciplinary teams and methods.

Scott has a master’s degree in Theoretical Physics from Queen’s University.

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