This Week's IDEA

Build Sites to Address the Entire User Journey

Making Remote Work Work for Journey Mapping
Jun 16, 2020
I wisely started with a map.—J.R.R. Tolkien

Welcome to This Week’s IDEA, where we talk about one essential topic around 21st Century IDEA and share resources and tools that you can use to start making small, incremental changes to your websites and digital services.

One of the design principles of the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS) is promoting continuity, or minimizing disruption, for your customers over time and across platforms, agencies, and devices.

Agencies, websites, and services all have different audiences, goals and missions, so we may implement solutions differently. One way to mitigate these challenges is to design sites with the USWDS in mind, and build sites with user-centered solutions to address the entire user journey, not just a specific task. One way you can do this is through journey mapping.

Below, we cover how journey maps provide value to your project and how you can use them even when the people you need to work with are geographically distributed.

What are journey maps?

Journey maps are artifacts that display how one person goes through a process, which could be as common and everyday as making a cup of coffee, or important and infrequent as applying for a passport. They range from as few as two steps on a path, to as many are needed to adequately make the journey understandable. Each mapped step of a journey can describe goals, interactions, materials required, and even thoughts or emotional states.

Why use a journey map?

It’s rare for an agency to have control over how a customer experiences a service from start to finish. Creating journey maps can help you see how your customer experiences the full service - before and after they interact with your piece of the puzzle. The process and resulting map can reinforce empathy skills, like walking in someone else’s shoes, that helps you understand the customer mindset as they enter and exit each step.

Journey mapping as a process can help your team think strategically about work, prioritize, and gain alignment on shared goals. Journey maps help ask “Why?” in a focused way, e.g.:

  • Why are we doing ____?

  • Why are we not doing ____?

  • Why are we doing ____ the way we’re doing it?

How to journey map

The major steps of journey mapping are:

  1. Align on the purpose of your journey mapping

  2. Select a process to map

  3. Identify phases and steps of the process (it’s critical to get customers’ or users’ perspective here)

  4. Select and visualize the attributes of each step

  5. Analyze the map to find patterns or opportunities for improvement

When you have a distributed team

When your team is distributed or cannot be together in person, you can condense this process by structuring your meeting in three steps:

  1. Align on the journey mapping purpose and determine what to map

  2. Break the process down and visualize it

  3. Analyze the map to find patterns or opportunities for improvement

Before you collaborate remotely

For a seasoned facilitator and experienced researcher adjusting to remote synchronous collaboration may be the most challenging part. Gauge the participants’ familiarity with synchronous remote collaboration and with activities like journey mapping in order to decide how to orchestrate the session.

What helpers do you need?

In advance, ask someone to be the moderator. While you guide the discussion and share your screen with the group, the moderator can keep an eye on the chat, assist anyone having a technical issue, and call your attention to someone who has something to say. Will you be making notes on your shared screen while you facilitate, or would you like a scribe to do the typing/drawing?

Select the tools you’ll use

Tools can range from pen and paper to spreadsheets to concept-mapping software or slide deck tools. The tools you use should prioritize collaboration over complexity. A high-fidelity version of the journey map will come later. When selecting the right tool consider:

  • Which tool are you most confident using?

  • Do you want everyone to easily work together in the document?

  • Is the team learning new tools or the journey mapping process on their own without a facilitator?

Tech check: test your tools

Test out your setup with the moderator. Tell participants in advance what tools you’ll be using and make sure that everyone will be able to participate equally. You might suggest they have pen and paper handy so you can ask them to write thoughts down during the session. If this type of collaboration is very new for team members, schedule a 30-minute drop-in session for people to try out whatever you will be using.

Set the ground rules

At the beginning of each session, tell people how and when they can contribute, e.g.:

  • “Stay muted and unmute yourself to speak any time” -or- “Type ‘Comment’ in the chat and the moderator will call on people”

  • “Go ahead and write in the shared document as we go” -or- “The scribe and I will be taking notes on-screen as we go. If we don’t capture your intent, please let us know!”

Step 1: Align on journey mapping purpose and determine what to map

Introduce mapping and prep for collaboration

  1. Provide a simple example to introduce your participants to the concept and structure of a journey map. For example, describing the process of going out for ice cream (Excel spreadsheet, 5 KB, 1 sheet).
    a. Consider where the journey begins and ends. Break down the journey into phases and steps, being as high level as possible and include only the detail necessary for the journey to be understood.

  2. Ask everyone to send you a list (could be in a shared document) of the expected steps in the process

  3. Set up the journey map document. For this example, we’ll use the spreadsheet above.
    a. In the first column, label the rows: Phase, Steps, Pitfalls, Thoughts, Feelings, Channel
    b. In the steps row, enter the steps, left-to-right. When there are duplicates of a step, just pick one.

A simple spreadsheet version of a journey map for easy remote collaboration

A simple spreadsheet version of a journey map for easy remote collaboration

Step 2: Break the process down and visualize it

Review the steps in the process

  1. Ask your team to group these steps into phases of the process and name each phase. (Enter these in the phase row)

  2. What are some pitfalls that can happen during the process? Enter them below the step where they can occur.

  3. For each phase, what might people be thinking?

  4. For each phase, what feelings might they have?

Step 3: Analyze the map to determine next steps

Identify pain points and opportunities for improvement

  1. Review the map focusing on how things interact, noting the unexpected, points of friction and steps that might be streamlined

  2. Determine priority areas to address

  3. Next steps could be, sharing this map with others, to make sure you’ve accurately reflected the journey, or creating buy-in for changes to roles and processes, or adding a “How might we?” brainstorm to think about ways to improve the journey.

  4. To maximize the usefulness of your map, make it a living document that is updated as process changes or with additional rows of information that could be metrics you could measure improvement by, like how much time or money is spent at each step (or in between steps) or customer satisfaction. You could also show the current state and a reimagined future state map to get buy in for making the experience better.

Additional Resources

Up Next

  • Attend Shifting Your Metrics Mindset on June 24. Learn how to orient your analytics strategy around success metrics. This webinar is part of the Digital Analytics Program’s learning series.

  • The Lab at OPM offers classes in human-centered design. Check out their 2020 classes, including the monthly workshop on the Fundamentals of Human-Centered Design.

  • Attend “Making Remote Work Work for Journey Mapping” on July 9. This webinar will be conducted by members of the 18F Research Guild.

From the Field

Meet Charlotte. She is a resident of Northern California who survived the devastating Camp Fire, which burned nearly 154,000 acres. Her house was destroyed and her family farm severely damaged. To Charlotte, this is a tragic life event that is upending her existence. To the federal government, it triggers possible eligibility for programs spread across dozens of agencies: Imagine each of the U.S. government’s services as part of a broader customer journey. How might federal agencies change their approach or even work together? How might citizens think differently about those services and their overall experience with government? —via

Do you have a 21st Century IDEA-related comment or question? Or would you like to give a shout out to your colleagues? Send it to us at, and we’ll work to incorporate it into the next newsletter.

Originally posted by Ben Peterson on Jun 16, 2020


Originally posted by Julie Strothman on Jun 16, 2020


Originally posted by Mark Trammell on Jun 16, 2020


Originally posted by Matt Dobson on Jun 16, 2020


Jun 16, 2020