Empathy Map- Xplane I recently worked on a project that ran into a few issues when we got to the design comp phase. Essentially when the comps were circulated internally, a number of stakeholders felt their needs where not being met. You may ask how we got all the way to comps before this came up and I could talk through the entire project identifying places where the process could have been improved, but I'd like to bring the focus to the beginning of the project where I think we missed an opportunity to succeed.

The responsibility of a User Experience Designer are vast. We take a leadership role in project definition, we gather, validate and nurture the needs of not just customers but of the business and the stakeholders. I've distinguished the business from the stakeholders on purpose because I think this is where the problems on the my project began.

At this point in time most clients and most creative project teams have a pretty good understanding of the differences between users and their needs and the some times conflicting desires of the business. Clients usually arrive at a kick off meeting with a fairly clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish from a business perspective and are looking for us to perform a number of exercises to help them understand their customers so they can better achieve their business goals. Many have written and I could talk for quite a while about the flaws of this approach but this is not the point of this post...

So as a UX practitioner I am brought in to bring the user perspective but I'm also responsible for further defining, focusing and tending to the goals of the business, this pieces isn't always directly acknowledged, but it is expected that we will do it. What is even more over looked is that we are expected to understand the internal stakeholder's needs and perspectives and balance all of these with both the business needs and the user needs. It's a balancing act that takes a good plan and lots of creative, complex thinking.

This piece, discovering, understanding and becoming empathetic to the needs of internal stakeholders requires the same rigorous approach as we apply to understanding our external users. We can't assume that the business requirements we are given or discover during project workshops are meeting the needs of everyone in the company. I have often created an internal user Persona but this is still looking at from an end user perspective.

Just as I was thinking about how I could have gained a better understanding of the perspectives of my stakeholders (separate from the business goals ) and could have made sure my direct client understood that we shouldn't proceed without a incorporating their needs, ideas and goals,  I came across this article,  Empathy Mapping from the blog Knowledge Games.

Here's what they said:

GOAL: The goal of the game is to gain a deeper level of understanding of a stakeholder in your business ecosystem, which may be a client, prospect, partner, etc., within a given context, such as a buying decision or an experience using a product or service. The exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. You should be able to make a rough empathy map in about 20 minutes, provided you have a decent understanding of the person and context you want to map. Even if you don’t understand the stakeholder very well, the empathy-mapping exercise can help you identify gaps in your understanding and help you gain a deeper understanding of the things you don’t yet know.

What I like about this exercise for understanding internal stakeholders is you can use to to test specific business goals or tactics. For example you could pose the questions, "How would adding live chat to the shopping cart process effect your job?"  or "What would be the impact to your department if we merge two of our sites into one?"

I can also see a possible big win in presenting these maps back to the actual stakeholders. Seeing their specific concerns being acknowledged and considered by the project team would go a long way in winning the trust of people company wide.

I'm going to try to articulate a specific process for stakeholder discovery in my next project and not just bury it in business and user discovery processes and reports. Had I outlined a process for working through the needs of a few particular stakeholder groups separate from the needs of the business on this last project, I would have been able to show my client the shortfalls of the design approach we ended up taking.

Have you had success in this area? What approaches did you use?