Mapping Experiences

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jim Kalbach, author of the interesting book Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams.

Jim Kalbach is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in user experience design, information architecture, and strategy. He is currently the Head of Customer Experience with MURAL, a leading online whiteboard for digital collaboration. Previously, Jim has worked with large companies, such as Audi, SONY, Elsevier Science, Lexis Nexis, Citrix, and eBay, among others.

Before returning to the US in 2013 after living for fifteen years in Germany, Jim was the co-founder of the European Information Architecture conferences. He also co-founded the IA Konferenz series in Germany.

Without further ado, here is the transcript of that interview:

1. You may have heard me say before that innovation is all about value. With that in mind, what is the importance of alignment diagrams and what role do they play in helping people visualize value?

Jim KalbachValue is a two-sided equation. On the one hand, organizations want to capture value in the form of profit, market share, or brand recognition. The basic idea is to diagram the steps in the experience from the customer’s perspective. Then, the organization can align it’s capabilities and processes to that experience.

On the other, customers need to get value from the products and services offered by a company. So alignment diagrams fundamentally look at that equation starting with the customer perspective. This provides an outside-in view of value, allowing organizations to align their value creation means to the customer experience.

2. What are the main types of maps and what is the typical use for each?

The class of mapping I focus on in my book can be characterized as generative mapping. These maps are used for creative activities to develop new solutions. These maps are often static and even printed out to serve as stimulus in a creative workshop. Within this category there are type different types of maps.

First, customer journey maps and service blueprints focus on mapping the experience a person has when interacting with a product, service, or brand. There’s an explicit relationship of the individual to a specific organization. I’d classify CJMs and service blueprints as solution space maps because they presume as an existing offering.

The second type of generative mapping looks at a person’s experience independent of a product, service, or brand. I call these problem space maps. An experience map, mental model diagram or job map views the individual as they may act to achieve some goal. It’s not about their relationship to an organization, but how they get things done.

Beyond that, this is a whole other class of mapping that I don’t talk much about in my book takes a more management approach. This type of mapping tends to be much more solitary and is used to monitor an existing customer journey as it unfolds. The focus here is not to generate new concepts and ideas, but to manage the journey in real time.

Maps for managing the customer experience also have steps and stages, and the may resemble generative maps. But they are typically created using online tools with connections to live data. This lets a customer experience manager, for instance, see updates to metrics and stats in real time.

3. How do you like to explain the role for mapping in business?

“Mapping” is nothing new. It’s a broad technique that can be applied to many areas of a business, for instance with business process modeling and value stream mapping, which have a long history.

But as we move to higher value found in experiences (as opposed to value in products or services), it becomes imperative that organizations can see the end-to-end process. Experiences are intangible and span time. It’s hard to grasp their entirety. Visualizations help provide a picture that teams can internalize and ultimately act on.

Getting everyone on the same page is key, and diagramming an experience helps organizations do just that. And companies that are more customer-centric tend to outperform competitors, so ultimately there is a business imperative for mapping.

4. You hear a lot about Moments of Truth these days. How do you like to explain what they are?

A moment of truth is a critical point in an experience that either makes or breaks the relationship between two parties. They are typically emotionally charged moments. For instance, in customer journey mapping, there are typically two primary moments of truth: the decision to purchase and the first use.

But we’re also seeing customers doing research on the products and services they acquire. This phase has been labeled “zero moment of truth” since it precedes the purchase decision.

While it’s important to focus on these big moments in an experience, small moments also matter. Very often a tiny gesture or benefit can have a big impact. Mapping helps teams see the big moments of truth as well as the smaller moments that matter. The task is to then orchestrate a solution experience that both reduces friction by eliminating negative moments and increases the likelihood of positive experiences. Visualization a key way that teams have used to coordinate this type of orchestration.

5. What is the role of maps in creating strategy?

First of all, experience mapping provides strategic insight that is actionable. By laying out a customer’s experience visually, teams can pinpoint where they want to innovative. Diagrams are compelling artifacts that provide a wealth of information in a compact format, while at the same time providing the big picture.

But keep in mind that a map itself provides little or no answers. It’s the conversation around the map that’s important. The aim of experience mapping isn’t to just create a map (a noun), it’s to include others in the mapping process (a verb). The mapmaker must be willing to become the facilitator, too. Maps are catalysts for conversations.

Second, strategy creation is changing at the same time. It’s moving from a closed event that an elite few made in isolation to a broader activity accounting for feedback from an entire team. Mapping opens up strategic conversations inside of organization and allows for participation. Teams can not only see where they fit into the customer experience, they can more readily contribute to the broader strategic conversations.

Ultimately, strategy is about alignment. A good strategy is like a magnet under a sheet of metal filings: the individual pieces align to the force of the magnet and point in a common direction. Alignment diagrams not only align perspectives from inside-out to outside-in, they help teams get on the same page and align mindsets.

6. How would you compare and contrast your take on a strategy canvas and building a business architecture?

Mapping ExperiencesA strategy canvas is a specific diagnostic tool that can provide valuable insight in many situations. But it’s only part of the picture. No one tool or step will cover an entire business architecture at once.

Typically, a range of maps and other tools are needed to build a business architecture. But we’re seeing more and more canvases and other visualizations contributing to the process. Again, this reflects a more modern and open manner of building a business these days.

7. What’s the difference between a customer journey map, a service blueprint, and an experience map?

These three types of maps get conflated because they have similarities. All of them are chronological and usually represented in a large table-like format, with time moving from left to right along the top and rows of information below the timeline. But they have significant differences under the surface, as well as a different uses.

A key difference, however, is the point of view and the relationship of individuals to the organization:

  • Customer journey maps typically view the individual as a customer of the organization. And, there is often a decision involved: to purchase a product or service.
  • Experience maps look at a broader context of human behavior. They show how the organization fits into a person’s life.
  • Service blueprints view how a service—often a real-time encounter—is experienced by a customer.

Breadth and depth vary for each as well, providing a different scope and focus.

  • Customer journey maps tend to focus on the experiential side of the equation, with only a brief description of the service provision processes. They are good for marketing and branding teams to get a big picture of the customer’s relationship with a brand, for instance.
  • Service blueprints focus on the backstage processes. They are good for design and development teams who want to improve an existing product.
  • An experience map focuses on the broader experience, showing the goals and motivations of an individual within a given set of circumstances. These maps are good for innovation and finding new opportunities for growth.

8. What role does research play in mapping?

Many teams feel it should be possible to just intuit a map from internalized knowledge. “We can just brainstorm the journey together,” they think. For much of a mapping exercise this may be true. And it would be silly to NOT leverage existing internal knowledge.

But even if a team can get 80% of a map without research, it’s the 20% where the opportunity lies. The intent of mapping isn’t just knowledge management, i.e., getting what you already know out on paper. It’s about finding new opportunities.

I have never lead a mapping project where we didn’t find surprises from the research. That’s why I make research a mandatory part of mapping. Note that this doesn’t mean a big, upfront effort. Just collecting some evidence for other sources and doing a handful of interviews can be enough to get unique insights.

Research plays a huge role in mapping.

9. What is the biggest pothole that people fall into when it comes to mapping?

The biggest mistake I see is not making the mapping relevant to the organization. There needs to be scoping and alignment before mapping begins. Often, it happens that people learn a new technique and just want to try it out. But if the mapping doesn’t address questions the business has, it will fall on deaf ears.

So the first thing to do is to make sure the business questions are known. Every business wants to grow, and that means there are always unanswered questions. The best mapping fills a needed gap in knowledge about customers.

Then, it’s important to frame the mapping effort in the right way. There are three key factors to consider:

  1. What perspective does the map take? You need to determine whose experience you’re mapping and what experiences are included or not.
  2. What’s the scope of the map? You must also determine the beginning and end of the experience.
  3. What’s the map about? Set the focus of the information that will be included. There are many ways to map an experiences, and knowing the focus is critical.

Mapping doesn’t solve every problem, and the technique might not be suited for some teams. Start small and learn what works and what gains the best traction or not. As always, there is no silver bullet.

10. Which part of the business makes the least use of mapping compared to their need?

Typically, marketing and branding teams make strong use of customer journey mapping. Product designers and service designers rely on various types of mapping and blueprinting as well. Operations teams have long used techniques like business process modelling and value stream mapping. Even development teams make use of mapping with techniques like “user story mapping” and by participating in mapping sessions lead by researchers and designers.

So I’d say that the biggest group that makes the least use of mapping compared to their need is strategists and executives. Sure, there are tools like the business model canvas and strategy maps that help visualize strategic decisions. But looking at the customers in a holistic way that embraces the inherent messiness of their human experiences is often missing at the management level. Mapping can help inject a view of the outside world into management decision making as well.


I’m definitely a big believer in more visual and collaborative approaches to business, which is why I created tools like the Change Planning Toolkit™, and am in the middle of building the Disruptive Innovation Toolkit™. Having a grounding in the principles of information architecture and mapping are incredibly helpful not only to people building these kinds of visual and collaborative tools, but also to people looking to visualize what they are doing in the business, people trying to gain alignment for their initiatives, and even to people using these kinds of tools.

Thanks Jim Kalbach for sharing some insights from your book Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams !

Jim blogs at and tweets at @jimkalbach

Change Planning Toolkit Million Dollar Value

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[author image=””]Braden Kelley is a Director of Innovation and Human-Centered Design at Oracle, and a popular innovation speaker and workshop facilitator. He is the author of two five-star books, Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and Charting Change, and the creator of a revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter (@innovate).[/author]

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