Written by Heather Stagl
In human-centered design, we often see powerful examples of how a simple, structured activity can be used in a variety of ways to deepen shared insight. In this case, we used empathy mapping to amplify understanding and set a solid foundation for organizational restructuring.
In this brief case study, we illustrate how you can use simple human-centered design tools for a variety of purposes, even beyond the original intended use of the tool. For example, teams can use stakeholder mapping in the project planning stage to explore people they need to interact with during a project, or they can use it during the research and sense-making stage to flesh out key actors in a challenge and reveal possible personas.
Here’s how a global pharmaceutical company used empathy mapping to help lay a positive foundation for an organizational restructuring.
The company recently reorganized its sales team from functional silos to cross-functional matrix teams focused on regions. While this kind of restructuring is not new, it was a big shift for a large, client-facing workforce that is essential to business success. The Learning and Development team used their internal sales leadership conference, where 400 leaders would gather over several days, as an opportunity to build collaboration and understanding within these new teams. DesignThinkers Group (DTG) was recruited to facilitate these conversations.
DTG used the Empathy Map Canvas created by Dave Gray to drive mutual understanding between members of each regional team. The teams were organized by table, and each were given several large empathy maps. They took turns filling it out for key roles on the team.
While this empathy map was originally designed for teams to compile a view of a subject based on research, the company’s pharmaceutical sales leaders had the advantage of having the subject at their table. Instead of theorizing about what they were experiencing, the teams were able to ask and share what they felt. This drove meaningful conversations about each team member and their role on the team.
The empathy map has seven sections:
- Who are we empathizing with? A short description of the subject so the design team is aligned on who they are empathizing with.
- What do they need to do? Articulation of what the person is trying to achieve in the context of the challenge the team is investigating.
- What do they see? Listing of things that the subject sees and observes around them.
- What do they say? Quotes or things that the subject would say about their situation.
- What do they do? Actions that the subject takes, things the team observes them doing, behaviors of the subject.
- What do they hear? Inputs that they hear around them, things that friends, family, colleagues or media say.
- What do they think and feel? Things that the team can infer based on all the previous steps. This is where the team identifies the pains and gains of the subject.
To facilitate the conversations, DTG first asked each team to complete sections 1 and 2 without input from the team member who was the focus of that particular empathy map. This enabled the group to share their expectations of that team member and how they could best support the team. After that, the group interviewed the team member to gain answers to sections 3 through 6. Finally, the team completed section 7 to infer how the team member thought and felt based on the previous sections. The team member then shared their own thoughts and feelings as feedback to the team.
Even after going through four different roles represented on each team, there was continued energy throughout the activities, so the teams then turned to mapping several customer roles. Here again, insights were shared among team members who had different information and perspectives based on their roles and how they interact with customers.
Feedback from the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. Team members who were the subject of the empathy maps felt understood by their new team, and everyone now had a new language and framework for having conversations about how they could function better as a team with new clarity of roles and perspectives.
The empathy map activity kept participants engaged, and everyone leaned in to listen respectfully, understand their colleagues, and gain a new shared understanding about how to better collaborate on common goals with their customers.
Do you have a new team structure that could benefit from human understanding? Do you have existing teams that struggle to function well together? An empathy map workshop can help your organization collaborate to get better results. Email email@example.com to schedule a consultation.
Try empathy mapping yourself! Download our free 2-page PDF containing the Empathy Map Canvas and the DTG Empathy Map method card.
DTG team member Heather Stagl is an author, coach, trainer, and change management facilitator who helps clients make a bigger impact by making change stick.