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    Using Journey Maps to Understand Your Software Users

    It’s not enough to know the tasks your users need to accomplish. Using a journey map allows you to get inside the minds of your users, understanding their wants and needs.

    Journey maps work by bringing together a series of user actions required to accomplish a specific goal.

    How to Map a User Journey

    Journey maps are not wireframes or prototypes. While they may contain some details regarding information gathered during a particular action or necessary actions before moving forward within a workflow, journey maps offer understanding more than specific requirements. 

    Journey maps work because established business practices and workflows should ultimately be the same at a high level whether the current state uses a series of paper notebooks or a sophisticated software application.

    Unless your software development project is very small with few requirements, it’s often best to start by identifying a series of journey phases as a high-level method for organizing goals into categories.

    For example, if you are working on a software application for hotel management and your first module relates to booking a hotel room, goals requiring journey maps may include: search for vacancies by date, choose a room type, create reservation, provide payment, and confirm reservation.

    Remember that journey maps are a judgment free zone. Look for the answers to three primary questions: What first?; And then what?; and But, what if?

    Business practices should define the behaviors and steps taken by your users and shouldn’t be subject to your agreement or approval. That said, if journey maps identify areas where workflow may cause issues with application development, it’s important to review those with your stakeholders, who can then decide how to remediate the problem. 

    Also read: Top 7 Trends in Software Product Design for 2022

    Not All Journey Map Users Can Be Spoken With

    Interviews are generally the most valuable way to gather meaningful data. Talking to actual people who perform the tasks your system will support is tremendously helpful.

    Sometimes there isn’t a person to speak with, or there are gaps in their knowledge. Look to additional sources of data, including customer support and complaint logs, call center recordings, and web analytics. 

    Don’t be afraid to also do a little peer review where possible. Review existing software applications that offer similar functionality to ensure your journey maps are comprehensive and that a type of user or specific goal hasn’t been overlooked. 

    Don’t Discard Research Data

    Users often offer up interesting information during interviews that may not be relevant for journey mapping but may be useful to your organization in other ways. Be sure to find a way to track details such as how a user initially discovered your brand or product or why they did (or didn’t) choose your organization.

    Interviews with users often produce a number of wishlist features that may not be within the scope of your current project but could be implemented as a value add in the future. 

    Share Journey Maps with Stakeholders and Business Analysts

    It’s entirely possible that an organization hasn’t realized four separate users are performing completely redundant tasks, or it may be that the current workflows create security concerns.

    Part of building a better user experience involves making sure your stakeholders and their business analysts have access to journey maps, so they can mitigate risks and look for areas where processes can be optimized. 

    Use Journey Maps to Plan and Prioritize Development Activities

    For new software development, journey maps provide a base level understanding for the activities and functions being performed by users within an organization (or by customers that interact with it). Journey maps make it easy to identify and prioritize users who have a considerable number of actions and steps to complete tasks and achieve goals.

    Having a clear and evolving understanding of your user journeys can also provide the insight required to improve your software and prioritize feature enhancements.

    Wondering why your users add certain products to their carts, but never checkout? Is your service desk receiving a large number of incident requests from a particular department? Utilize journey maps to revisit workflows. Sometimes small changes in the actions required to complete tasks can solve issues and alleviate pain points. 

    Also read: The Importance of Usability in Software Design

    Other Development Mapping Options

    Several additional development mapping strategies can be used to supplement journey maps during the development of your software applications. Understanding these additional mapping options can clarify what you should and shouldn’t include in a journey map.

    Empathy Maps

    Empathy maps provide a method to characterize your software users, paying closer attention to their expectations, behaviors, and feelings. A journey map may tell you whether a user is able to achieve their goals, but an empathy map lets you know whether they enjoyed or were frustrated by the experience.

    At first glance, empathy maps may feel like an unnecessary luxury, but they can significantly increase the usability and accessibility of your software. As an example, what may seem like superficial color preferences may make text more readable for users with vision impairments. 

    Experience Maps

    Experience maps are most often confused with journey maps. While the basic premise is the same, experience maps function at a higher level, combining multiple user types and products.

    Ultimately, experience maps cast a wider net. This may be within the same software application (combining journey maps for various modules addressing sales, service, human resources) or by brand (for those organizations that offer a suite of products that may or may not be directly related). 

    Experience maps may help identify redundancies, find common customer pain points, look for missing functionality, or even address issues of brand loyalty and customer retention. 

    Service Maps

    Service maps are less about design and more about understanding what’s under the hood. A comprehensive service map helps you to understand all of your software applications, devices,  connections, and dependencies. 

    Journey Maps Help Future-Proof Software Applications

    Journey maps are valuable tools, answering questions regarding software functionality and workflow. As development teams evolve and stakeholders change, reasons for design decisions tend to fade, and resources that understand your software architecture move on or forget the little details.

    Not only do journey maps help to create more functional software solutions, but organizations enjoy ongoing benefit from lessons learned and expert knowledge transfer (recorded at the time of design and development).

    Read next: Using Prototyping to Accelerate Software Development

    Jillian Koskie
    Jillian Koskie
    Jillian Koskie is an experienced software developer, writer, business analyst, and usability design expert. With over 24 years in these roles, Jillian has enjoyed applying her considerable skill-set to assist clients and users across a wide variety of sectors including: legal, health, and financial services. Combining these professional opportunities with a love of technology, Jillian is pleased to act as a trusted advisor, contribute articles, voice opinions, and offer advice to numerous organizations, news outlets, websites, and publications.

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