One article about using Empathy as a measure in the Prioritization process

It probably won’t bring a high ROI to the business, but it will bring a high sense of joy.

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

There are a few metaphors to describe empathy. Some say Empathy is “when one wears other shoes”, others say Empathy is “to look the world with the other’s lens/glasses”. Empathy is when we truly listen to someone and fully understand what the other is saying. And by “listen” it means not only the words but also emotions, feelings, concerns, and struggles.

As a Product Manager, we are used to using different types of techniques in the prioritization process: we have MoSCoW ranking to define the “musts” on our scope, or for example, the 2 x 2 Prioritization Matrix, where we could prioritize the scope based on importance and effort. We also have other more complete models like RICE and WSJF, which will give you a detailed view of how we could sequence our roadmap.

All techniques above or even others not included here prioritize the scope mainly based on money savings, ROI, positive impacts on the majority of the users (reach), or even complexity and effort. My proposal with this article is that once in a while we park all of those techniques for a moment, and put one Feature on top of the ranking based on Empathy. That means to prioritize a Feature not based on ROI or reach, but thinking how our next Feature could help a small group of users or even a single one.

Photo by Ahmad Gunnaivi on Unsplash

Let me give you an example of a business customer who was the only user of a particular module of a Product I managed. The module was essentially a maintenance screen, used to set up data that would be used in other parts of the product or by other users. That screen was a nightmare. It was slow and not at all user-friendly, and to help with, there was no good filter and sort functionalities, which increased the time spent on it. A complete mess.

This product itself was being massively redesigned in terms of UI, architecture, etc. and we also spent a lot of energy on the user experience. Obviously, we prioritized the most used modules, in order to bring a positive impact to the majority of the users first. Needless to say that the particular module was never prioritized, and always pushed to the bottom of the list. To be honest, in the very beginning it wasn’t even accounted for prioritization.

However, one day we were all in one of the regular calls between IT and Business and we could see how actually she (the business customer) was using it. She was sharing her screen and we were all discussing other topics and at some point, she had to open that particular module and started to play along with the screen. At that very moment, we all suddenly felt how painful was to use that, and we put ourselves in her shoes imagining how bad was to be using that screen daily.

The call got completely repurposed and started to be a user interview type of meeting. “Hey, how often do you use this screen?”, “What other activities you perform here?”, “What other functionalities would be useful here?”, and those types of questions started to pop up. Once we dropped from the call, we regroup and started to look at our roadmap to see opportunities to squeeze that screen in. Everyone wanted to do that. And we did it.

A couple of months later we had the first demo to show her what we thought in terms of MVP (which was already way better than the actual screen) and sometime later the final version of the screen was live in production for her. We were all delighted to see her using the screen and giving all the “Wow!” moments after every click. That was for sure a day when we all went back home with a high sense of accomplishment.

Did that single module bring a high ROI? Probably not. How about the Reach, was it high? Obviously not, we were talking about a single user among thousands. Same with NPS or CSAT, the positive impact on it would be minimum. But any of those didn’t matter at that moment. We weren’t concerned about it, we simply prioritized it based on Empathy.

I believe in two types of Products: the ones that make People’s life easier and the rest. Which one are we going to work on today?

Just a Product Manager enjoying talks about Product Management and Productivity | Geek | Working in Tech Industry | LinkedIn: ricardoaam