Empathy map

What it is and why use this technique?

The empathy map is a technique that helps getting a deeper insight into project’s stakeholders. We can only find a good solution to stakeholders’ problem(s) if we gain a deep understanding of those stakeholders. An empathy map guides us in finding this.

Empathy maps vary in shapes and sizes, but the basic elements are the emotions of a stakeholder categorized into: “Say”, “Do”, “Think” and “Feel”:

  • SAY: What are some quotes and defining words your stakeholder said?
  • DO: What actions and behaviors did you notice?
  • THINK: What might your stakeholder be thinking? What does this tell you about his or her beliefs?
  • FEEL: What emotions might your subject be feeling?

Quite often during interviews or workshops we will get a grasp on things stakeholders explicitly share with us. But this can be controlled by a stakeholder; he chooses what to share with us. Some techniques, like observations, will allow us to to see whether what he told us, is really practiced. Empathy maps gives us a holistic view on a stakeholder with his needs.

When is it useful?

In my opinion, it is always useful to keep some kind of simplified empathy map for key stakeholders in a project. Based on the empathy map we get a better understanding of needs the stakeholder has. Additionally we get insights on potential problems that need further investigation (e.g. what a stakeholder says does not match what we does).

How to use it?

Create a four quadrant layout on paper or a whiteboard. Based on your notes, interview recordings, etc populate the map. Note that thoughts or beliefs and feelings cannot be observed directly. They must be inferred by paying careful attention to various clues. Pay attention to body language, tone, and choice of words. The empathy map can be as simple as that below:

EmpathyMap

Tips: Use post-it notes in different colors. Each color can mean a different aspect of the empathy map.

Advantages and disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Helps to step into the shoes of your stakeholders
  • Helps to discover how the stakeholders’ perspectives differ from your own views
  • Creates platform for collaborative, stakeholder-centric discussions
  • Helps to discover real needs of stakeholders

Disadvantages:

  • Can be time-consuming

Further reading:

Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head