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Mapping the user experience - How to find out what the real problem is before we start solving it.

Working in a project where the users are ignored since “We have to focus on functionality first!” leaves me exhausted. The constant flow of cartoons and jokes about developers not really caring about the real needs of users seem to go on. And just to clarify, with developers I include project managers, testers and anyone in the process of producing software. We laugh at the jokes and go back to repeat them in our own way, often thinking that usability is some other person’s responsibility.


To be perfectly honest our craft still seem to be very immature in the art of satisfying the users for what we build. So how can we change this? I for one have made a vow to myself that I will do all I can to help building systems that the users really like to use. I truly believe that change comes from people putting their foot down saying, “No more of this!”.

Moment of Truth

Try this though experiment with me. A lot of people get really sick from using badly designed computer systems. There is a lot of statistics on this. Swedish readers can have a read at Jonas Söderströms blog - the book is an eye opener! English speaking readers can read the slides.  So if we accept the fact that the use of IT systems are making people sick, think about who built the systems. That would be us – the developers, testers, requirement analysts, scrum masters etc. So indirectly we are hurting people by building systems that are hard to use. Now take a moment to reflect on your personal code of ethics. Can you honestly say that you are ok with continuing building bad solutions knowing what the effects are?

Mapping the User Experience

The UX community have some really great ideas on finding out what the real problem is, before we start solving it? Sounds like a fairly reasonable idea to me.

Collecting Data

The Lean movement have a core practice – the cool English-Japaneese term is Go to Gemba.The only way of really understanding what people are doing is observing them doing it, preferably in their natural setting. The same idea goes for mapping a user experience. Observe users as much as you can, ask them questions about what they are trying to do and what problems they are facing. Try not to impose too much since that will disturb the users and may change their behaviour. I find it good to go out and observe in pairs since we observe different things. We never do any video recordings since that disturb users and we never seem to have time to watch the recordings anyway. It can be exhausting to be an active observer. Try to focus on what you see and hear and don’t try to find solutions at this point. Make sure to write down quotes that really make a point like : “ I wish I did not have to enter that data once more”.

It may not always be possible to observe all the users you want but hopefully you can at least meet them for interviews. To be honest, in the projects I have participating in we have mostly worked with interviews and have made only a few visits to observe users working. Done the right way interviews can be very revealing. We still avoid video recording and instead try to be active listeners and ask clarifying questions. Good questions you may ask are open-ended like:

-“Tell me more about what you just did.”

-“What information would be good to have when performing this task?”

You can spend a lot of time collecting data and there are as usual no rules for how much is enough. I have mostly built systems intended for specific professional users which means that the number of user groups is fairly limited. It is a good idea to interview at least three people in each user group in order to get valid personas. For larger systems you may want to interview many more than this but we need to start somewhere.

Analysing Data

Now is the time to start analysing all the data from your observations. A great way of doing this is to arrange a workshop where all the people that interviewed or observed participate. Condense findings by writing the main points on yellow post-its and putting them up on a wall. It is I good idea to put some butcher paper or some taped flip chart papers on the wall to be able to move the information when needed. Group the post-its together for the specific actions users try to do.

Now create a chronological flow of tasks on blue notes where one task may consist of several actions on green notes. I does not have to be perfect as flows in reality seldom are. You now end up with something looking like this:


Sorted observations of user experiences

Note that what is on the wall now is the group’s collective observations of real user’s actions grouped together. We still have not solved any problems but we ought to have a pretty good picture of what the real problem is. We should all literally be on the same page.

I attended a great one day tutorial by Chris Risdon where our sorted tasks looked like this.

Tasks for booking a hotel


Creating the Experience Map

There are several models for creating a more formal map.

Here is a task map based on the free downloadable templates at cxpartners. The templates accompany the book Communicating the User Experience which is a great start if you want to dig deeper into this matter after reading this post. The flow describes how to order a specific medical drug and is loosely based on a recent project.

Task Map for Drug Application


Some more examples can be found in Chris Risdon's slides. Read more about customer journeys and mood graphs.

Our hand drawn graph at the course looked like this



Since I strongly believe feedback is a key factor to any successful project this is a good time to show the graph to important stakeholders to make sure we all agree. If we find that we still have outstanding questions we may need to conduct some more in depth interviews.


This only a very brief introduction to the starting point of UX. The technicques are not the hard part - the crux is to become a great observer and interviewer. The ideas are not new - business requirements and processes have been a part of many development models. The problem is that thay have to often been ignored. UX is changing all that by really putting focus where it belongs - solving real problems for real users.

If you have read earlier blog posts you will recognise the four step flow of visual problem solving.

Visual Problem Solving
Visual Problem Solving














The experience map is a great way to start a project! There is plenty of information if you want to dig deeper in Mapping the user experience

The latest stuff I read and can recommend is

Communicating the User Experience: Caddick, Cable

Smashing UX Design: Allen, Chadley

Book review. UX for Lean Startups. Laura Klein.

Laura Klein has written a book with a title consisting of three of the newest buzzwords...

...and it is well worth reading!

Unlike most (all) other books from the big land in the West that are always a few years ahead of us in IT there is no mention of God or Alice in Wonderland. Instead we get the Wizard of Oz testing and some spicy language full of irony and quite a lot of beeing fed up with designers not adhering to the principles in the book.



The principles are fairly easy to understand, applying them may be harder. While reading this quite amusing book I feeel like am nodding in agreement all the time. Things seem so obvious. Understand the users and their problems, it is just like the core ideas of effect mapping (nowadays also nows as impact mapping). How come we still do it wrong most of the time? Have the great agile idea of NOT writing a complete requirement specification in the beginning of the project - passing it of as the TRUTH and only relectantly chaninging it - eluded the requirements movement? I feel I am getting as upset as Laura in her book. Of course we should try things out before we build them, and don´t believe we get things right the first time, or the second...design continues even after the first version is shipped. 

This is a great read - not only for startups but for everyone building IT-systems.I have distilled what I found most interesting in the sketchnote below.



So now I am going to get a licence for Balsamic and create some interactive prototypes - simple because it needs to be done and few are doing it.

If you want to read more from Laura try her blog.

Next read is a book with a similar but shorter title - Lean UX.



I hired Per Frykman to find out what my professional reputation was by asking colleagues and clients I worked with what they think are my strengths and weaknesses. The result was overwhelmingly positive, which was a real boost for my self confidence.

New Web Design

After many creative discussions and some wild ideas this is where we finally landed. My goal was to have a web page with a modern and minimalistic touch. Important information should be easy to find and the focus should be on me as a professional and what I do.

My Professional Reputation

The new web is part of a larger effort to reach customers and colleagues in a more professional manner. I hired Per Frykman to find out what my professional reputation was by asking colleagues and clients I worked with what they think are my strengths and weaknesses. The result was overwhelmingly positive, which was a real boost for my self confidence. I must admit that it did feel a bit strange in the beginning presenting the result publicly, this is not so common in Sweden. But hey, when looking for a new job you give references to your future employers and my professional reputation is actually a condensed ten-person reference!


I also had some new photos taken by a professional photographer. Armand Dommer usually has clients that are younger and better looking than me but I think he did a great job with the material he had this time!

What´s With the Blogging?

The last three months the web has been under development so I have intentionally not wanted to update or change anything. However I have been very busy reading and writing.

New Learnings

I have been digging deep into visual problem solving reading the works by Mike Rohde, Becky Agerbeck, Dan Roam, David Sibbet, Lee Lefever and bikablo dictionaries. Test design modelling goes right along the same track of visualizing problems in order to analyse and increase collaboration.

In November I will be giving a full day tutorial at EuroSTAR and I really wanted to update the material with all the new ideas I have. Creating the material included not only new content and new slides but a 50 page paper on the subject! This paper is submitted for the EuroSTAR contest besides being material for the tutorial. The paper will be available as an e-book in November.

I have also written a shorter article on the same subject in Swedish. This is part of a book that will be published in November by TestZonen.

The Lean Effort I Started?

Since last blogging I have participated in a value flow mapping workshop taking notes and analysing the workflow. This was an enlightening day on how these workshops are conducted but I will not be able to share any details due to confidentiality agreements. My job was paying attention to the group, keeping my mouth shut, thinking hard and documenting. Later I discussed my findings in detail with the workshop leader.

The Toyota Kata book is the next item on my reading list for Lean. Problem is that there are so many interesting books on other subjects I still have not read.

What About Work?

I have a part time assignment testing a web application which is planned to end around Christmas. Besides that I give classes in testing.

I will be participating in a management consulting effort done by my colleague Mattias Nordin and am discussing a lot around enterprise architecture with my friend, teacher and guru Peter Tallungs. I want to increase my skills in these areas and what’s better than learning from the pro’s in real situations!

As of right now I have openings for new assignments starting January next year.

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Recommended by a good friend and excellent Enterprise Architect and thinker Peter Tallungs - I bought the book It´s your ship by M Abrashoff. I started reading it last night and could not stop. I finished at 2 a.m. enlightened and inspired. This is a story about a captain turning a mediocre crew into the best of the best of the best.. you get the picture.

It is a really great book on leadership. Starting out with an abused and disillusioned crew that just wanted to do the minimum of effort ending up with an inspired team of people that felt that they were doing it for themselves.

That it is really what is all about, doing things beacause they WANT to do them instead of doing things because you are told to do them. In the worst case somebody that has no clue tries to micro-manage you.

So What Was Abrashoff's Method?

  • First of all respect the people your are leading, show them that you care for them and trust them 
  • At the same time set clear rules
  • Clearly communicate what you expect from them.
  • Allow failures and then coach them to do better next time
  • Realise that the people actually doing the work are the ones that can make a difference.

By respecting people and treating them well and at the same time telling them that you expect them to perform well. Everybody wants to do a good job - if you let them!

If you really want to be a great leader - you need to read this book and reflect on how your own leadership can improve.

As for LEAN. This is right along the lines of the Lean Leadership book i just  finished reading. Respect the people!

I really despise people that do not respect others. A healthy argument can be wonderful for the spirit but when you stop respecting you peers as well as your adversaries you are in deep trouble. If you get in the situation when you realise abuse and disrespect is the case - leave, for your own good!

I finished Reading Lean Leadership by Liker and Convis. It is a really good book that fcus on the philosophy and ideas behind true leadership and I recommend it warmly. This is the summary I made:




I finished the book and created the summary as a preparation for the Tuesday evening three hour presentation and workshop on Lean given ny my colleague and mentor Anders Häggkvist. Twenty people were gathered at the Kvadrat office to learn and discuss about what Lean is and how we can help clients implementing it. Some facts were already known to me ut the repetition of them and the additional facts and discussions helped me to sort things out.

This is the sketch-note I created at the workshop. Sorry my English speaking readers this one is in Swedish...