Agile Coaching Tip: What Is an Empathy Map?

An empathy map is a collaborative tool teams can use to gain a deeper insight into their customers. Much like a user persona, an empathy map can represent a group of users, such as a customer segment. The empathy map was originally created by Dave Gray and has been gaining popularity with the agile community.

What Does an Empathy Map Look Like?

An empathy map consists of a simple face surrounded by six sections:

  1. Think & Feel
  2. Hear
  3. See
  4. Say & Do
  5. Pain
  6. Gain

How Would I Use an Empathy Map?

A sample empathy mapping session may be as follows:

Assemble your team and have them bring any personas, data, or insights about the target of your empathy map.

Print out, or sketch, the empathy map template on a large piece of paper or whiteboard.

Hand each team member sticky notes and a marker.

Each person should add at least one sticky to every section.

Ask questions, such as what would this user be:

– thinking & feeling about their worries or aspirations?
– hearing while using our product, from their friends or boss?
– seeing while using our product in their environment?
– saying & doing while using our product in public or in private?
– experiencing as a pain point or fear when using our product?
– experiencing as a positive or gain when using our product?

Have the team members speak about the sticky notes as they place them on the empathy map. Ask questions about deeper insights so that they can be elaborated for the rest of the team.

To help bring the user to life, sketch out the characteristics this person may have on the center of the face.

At the end of the session, ask the team members what insights they’ve learned. More importantly, ask them what hypotheses they now have about the users that they’d like to validate.

When Would I Use an Empathy Map?

Empathy maps can be used whenever you find a need to immerse yourself in a user’s environment.

They can be helpful when, but are not limited to:

– diving into the customer segments of a business model canvas
– elaborating on user personas
– capturing the behaviors when pair interviewing a customer
– building out the “user” in your user story

What If My Team Is Distributed?

While empathy mapping sessions are ideally conducted in a collocated scenario, online tools are emerging that allow you to host a session virtually. I’ve created a simple Google Docs Template that is simple to use. Innovation Games has also recently added the empathy map to its collection of online experiences.

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