Journey Maps: Navigating Multi-Organizational Friction

The process of our work might seem very linear. We do the research to identify the problem, we identify the best means to remedy it, we design the solution, we implement it. In a perfect world, it would be that simple, but sadly we live in a world full of shades of grey, where the simple solutions rarely address all of the variables.

We frequently use a technique known as Journey Mapping when we are designing user experiences. In it’s most simplistic form a journey map follows a potential user through the experience of a service, highlighting any issues that they might encounter and the ways that the existing process can guide them through those issues.

But what happens when there are blank patches on the map?

We live in a world where there are multiple entities involved in many interactions beyond just the user and the service provider. When you order a package from Amazon, your experience isn’t shaped solely by the online platform and the ecommerce experience, there are other forces at work that can completely alter the outcome of your purchase. If the delivery service that the package is outsourced to fumble their stage of the journey, it won’t be them that catches the brunt of the user’s ire but it will be the lasting impression your customer has of the service as a whole.

Airbnb is another organization that constantly suffers as they are caught as middlemen between the users of their service and the owners of the properties that they rent out. Whenever a user is unhappy with the property they are using, Airbnb receive the complaints and have to provide the compensation. Whenever a property owner is unhappy with the state that the property is left in after a visitor has departed, Airbnb receive the complaints and have to provide the compensation. Worse yet, they sometimes get trapped as mediators in disputes between the two parties.

A person writing on a post-it note

How can you control what happens outside of the user experience that you have designed?

It’s not easy. But journey mapping can at least provide a holistic view of the customer experience in it’s entirety – and while you cannot control things outside of the user experience that you are designing, you can certainly design with those elements in mind. If your product or service is meant to be used on the move then it should be built with interruptions in mind. If you know that a delivery service runs slow, then you should provide users with accurate timescales upfront.

When a user complains, AirBnB are the ones forced to provide a refund, even when they know very well that the source of the problem is actually the property owner. Even if the designer knows exactly what the problem outside of their control is and cannot address it directly, a better understanding of the customer journey can reveal other places were these problems can be remedied. Ways that allow the user can feel like their concerns are heard and vindicated. Studying the problem areas can actually provide the insight required to create a moment of delight elsewhere in the journey.

Some things will never be under your control, and you need to accept that and build flexibility into your designs so that they can exist in a real- world setting, not a hypothetical utopia. It isn’t necessary to assume the worst about the other organizations that might impact your service, but it is necessary to be realistic about the problems that can occur and design practical solutions to problems that you didn’t create.

Director of Design Research

Sutherland Labs
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