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Remote co-created journey mapping

How well do you know the people you serve? Your answer to this question determines the fit between your service and the people who use it. For us, time, resources, and the difficulty of being a remote team made field research and in-person co-creation activities a pipe dream. A glimmer of hope came in the form of a 2-week cross-departmental free for all, which we called a hackathon. From this opportunity, we learned a great deal about our members, and through collaboration, came up with a twist on a tried and true activity. This twist afforded us a means of deeper understanding with a small time commitment, and best of all, it could be done remotely.


I remember the time in my school days when we mapped the existing experience before ever conceiving a way to improve it. Understanding the ins and outs of what is true today helps fuel new ideas that meet real needs. We had built several journey maps in years past, but something was missing, talking with the people on the journey. I had set out on a mission to prove to myself that this kind of research can be done remotely, and doesn't have to be a burdensome time commitment.


Something was missing

Snapshot of the current experience from my thesis project from back in the day.  

As a design team, we needed to better understand the overall journey our customers took to change their behavior, and how our service fits into that journey. Though many teams embark on immersive experiences with customers in person, our team had a few unique and seemingly insurmountable challenges:

  • We work in behavior change and address a subject that can be shameful to talk about and depressing to recall. 

  • The team was remote, before being remote was cool.​​​​​​​​

  • Research had been known to take long periods of time.

  • People throughout the company felt they knew enough about those who use our service.

  • Usually, research activities were reserved for those in a research role, which was not me. 


When these challenges joined together in full force, one may wonder if this is worth trying at all. Without a time machine, a title change, and access to a teleportation device this effort seemed like a long shot.

We set out to prove that understanding our members can be done well, in good time, by anyone daring enough to ask tough questions and try a new approach. We also wanted others to experience for themselves the depth of understanding that gives designers what is needed to explore and solve real problems. 

Daring enough to ask tough questions

Our team's assumption-based Journey map. We asked ourselves what we think people's experiences are, but we did not ask them. 

My passion to understand the current experience for members began long before the company was in the practice of holding hackathons. Some years past, I began this work by consulting a friend in the research field. Matt had led many in-person journey mapping sessions and offered many suggestions for creating a safe space for discussion. By turning participants' focus to building artifacts (with props) and describing situations, they would be less likely to relive painful experiences.

During this early phase of the work, I had also met with a mentor in leadership who had led various forms of mapping sessions. He shared many possible approaches and offered tips to keep the conversation at the right fidelity, not letting participants get lost in details. Many other friends spoke to the content of the study, working through times, places, and people.


Bringing in the brilliant imaginations and experiences of others

This was the first map prototype for an in-person activity. I used the term Use Scenario, because a journey map had become synonymous with the mapping of an experience that starts with awareness of our service and ends with cancellation.  

Asking members to recollect painful times in their life and journey became a concern. Not being a trained counselor myself, I relied on others who had the training to review the activity. At this point in the exploration the cost of the in-person activity combined with how our teams work remotely, research took a back seat to other priorities. It was looking less and less likely that we would get to know our market in this way.

Research took a back seat to other priorities

Facilitation guide for the in-person journey mapping activity. Intended to frame the activity for fellow employees to focus on listening before judging or jumping to solutions.

It was a few years between the first set of collaborations and the hackathon presenting a golden opportunity, but the early exploration shaped how I thought about the remote activity, and how I approached the topic, the structure of the interview, and ultimately gave way to the idea for drawing out the map.

A golden opportunity

We created a script for the remote activity. Moving participants in less of a linear fashion to different points in their journey allowed us to focus on the right depth and end the activity on a high note. 

They say success is won when you heed the advice of many counselors, this project is evidence of that. I found passionate people who were willing to commit to seeing this activity become a reality. A great deal of this collaboration was with my friend Ben, a fellow UX designer and the scribe for this activity. It was a blessing to see his strength of imagining new processes, and documentation styles bring this idea to life!

Many counselors

We held a debrief session to discuss what we learned with the observers. Many commented on the powerful stories the participants have, and the empathy the activity has built for them.

We did it! In one week we had achieved a deeper understanding of our members, we had built a reusable framework and we had documented artifacts we could go back to. It seemed impossible at times but remote journey mapping can be done in good time.

Is that where it ends? I would love to report that this activity paved the way for mapping customer jobs to be done (also called Experience Maps, strategic journey maps), prioritizing new problems, and fuel innovation. This is instead the cliffhanger where we will leave off until story 2. This season of the work has concluded, but this effort is anything but finished.


Achieved a deeper understanding 

After a little more than a day of interviews we had 4 recorded videos from participants willing to share their stories with us, and 4 documented maps we could reference in our work.

My greatest takeaway from this activity is how grateful our participants were for the opportunity to share their stories with us. Through all of this work, I was worried that by asking them to share, we were asking more than we should. In the end, the whole activity was a benefit to everyone who participated. This, if nothing else, is reason enough to never give up on moving forward even when the odds are not in your favor, and there are many mountains yet to be crossed.

Lessons Learned

Benefit to everyone who participated
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