Butterfly, Customer Development, Innovation, Innovation Game, Requirements

Empathy, Mapping Customer Job Stories, and Business Modeling

It’s been some time since I wrote about customer job stories and the connection to empathy maps and solution design (initial post here), so I thought I would revisit this topic and provide more context.

In the beginning. . .

Empathy. Always. Not only at the start, but through every stage. There are multiple ways to try to develop empathy – observation, walking their journey, etc. – and I would suggest using as many as possible. For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on Sailboat – an activity we created to gain insight.


Sailboat – simple drawing by author.

Sailboat is a “game” of sorts, where we get participants to sit in teams of 5. Generally there are 20 people in each session, though we have done sessions of over 70.

Boat steps (materials needed – sharpies, post-it notes, big pieces of paper):

1) At the start, each team is asked to draw a boat in the middle of a big piece of paper. The boat, since it’s a metaphor, can represent anything – themselves, them and an organization, them and a current product, etc. We give them 5 minutes.

2)Next we ask where they are trying to go in their boat (i.e. what islands are you trying to get to, what does it look like, etc.).  One idea per post-it note, and we get each team to share with the group where they are trying to go in their boat. 5 minutes.

3) Then comes the anchors – what is holding their boat back from reaching the islands, what slows them down, etc. 5 minutes, again they share the anchors with other teams.

4) Lastly the winds – what moves their boat, what helps get them going. Yep, 5 minutes on this one too, and they share with the other teams.

That’s it for the game. It happens really fast, and in my experience works with young and old, students and business professionals. It’s really important to do things in sequence, and to continually ask questions throughout to dig deep into their responses. We run these games until we can see some themes emerging in the areas. I always close the session by telling people that the anchors and winds help me understand what types of things the solution features will need to address, and that the islands tell me the “why”. The “why” is important, because if the solution can get them closer to the “why”, they should use whatever is developed to get them there, simple as that. The anchors and winds help inform the “what” and “how”.

The point isn’t to only have a fun time getting people to draw boats. No, the point is to be learning and building empathy and connections with the people who are giving you this priceless information.

Next, develop a narrative

What we then do with this information is identify common themes among the islands, winds, and anchors. Developing a narrative is extremely helpful. For example, “What I’m seeing is that people are trying to get here, but this and that other thing are holding them back. At the same time, this other things seem to help them get going.” Sharing the narrative with your design team is critical, as they will be able to quickly tell where you might be stretching; conversely, they will be able to challenge you to go deeper based on their own observations. Every member of the team needs to share a narrative. The narrative can be based on the sailboat game, or other methods of learning and exploration.

Bringing it back into customer jobs, pains, and gains

Rather than dumping the narrative straight into the empathy map, what we instead do is the interim step of creating a job story map. This helps transform the narrative into a sequence of activities we have learned in our exploration. I first encountered the “When”, “I want to “, “So I can” framework after reading this post by Alan Klement. What we’ve added is the “this is hard because” and “what helps is” in order to capture additional aspects.


Now, we take our narrative and break it down into the components above. Few tips/pointers:

  • The “Whens” are important, and are meant to represent the situations the end-users find themselves. Creating a story board for their current journey can be helpful here if it applies.
  • The “islands” form the basis for the “I want to ” and “So I can” and break them apart into their components – what are they trying to achieve, and why. There can be multiple motivations and expected outcomes for any particular situation.
  • The pain is the anchors they experience – the things that make it hard or difficult.
  • The gain are the good things they experience – the things that help.

Here’s a quick example:


(Note: “hangry” is a combination of being hungry and angry at the same time.) This is a very basic example, but I think it does a good job of breaking down the components to this particular scenario.

Into the empathy map we go

What we then need to do is connect this into the empathy map.  The “when, “I want to”, and “so I can” become one singular customer job, the pains are the pains, and the gains are the gains. To illustrate:



This is fairly simplistic, but serves the current purpose.  Next is to create a series of prototype products, services, and solutions features that either create or enhance current gains and/or relieve current pains. You then validate/verify these with your customer. I’ll write more on this piece in future posts.





No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: