Monday 23 April 2018

An Emotional Journey

Of all roles in software development, the Product Owner is one that I find is most at risk of positive biases around their software. When creating a product there's a natural tendency to be overly optimistic around the positive reception that it will get from its target user community. I am in the process of developing an innovative new engagement and productivity product in my company and naturally am very excited and optimistic around the benefits of will give. As my colleagues and I started out in this endeavour we wanted to make sure we included a consideration of potential negative feelings into our development process - and our UX (User eXperience for the uninitiated) specialist came up with a great way of doing this...

Getting into UX

One of the things that I've found most rewarding in moving to Web and mobile work after many years of being in a world of APIs and command lines, is learning more about UX. I maintained an interest in UX during my years working on big data, but the absence of significant front end development work left this as a secondary concern to those of accuracy, scale and performance. The last two years working on Web and mobile technology has given me the opportunity to make up some ground on the UX learning curve - a process which has been accelerated thanks to the enthusiasm of our in-house UX team.

When we decided to create a product that attempted to bring together the worlds of data and employee engagement, the importance of establishing the right emotional connection with users was paramount to ensure the team experience of using the product was empowering rather than intimidating. In chatting with the UX specialist working on the product, who I'll call Phoebe, we discussed the need to identify the emotions that we wanted to promote in using the product. On the flip-side we also talked about the emotions that we did not want to promote, and how useful it would be to identify some of these up front so that we could design with these in mind.

An Emotional Journey

Phoebe had the bright idea of running an 'emotional user journey' workshop to help flush out both positive and negative emotions that could arise at key points through the process of using our product. This was something neither of us had done before but seemed like a great for for what we were trying to achieve.

The starting point was getting the right mix of people in the room. We pulled together a combination of Development and Commercial roles as well as some of the senior client services and Product Ownership people from our successful bespoke engagement and data programmes.

  • Phoebe started by presenting the different user personas that we had created for the product, explaining the personalities, pet hates and goals of each one.
  • She then progressedd to map out the primary elements of the flow of product behaviour that we had identified as our core journey.
  • At each stage she placed some leading 'question' cards with questions to make the attendees think about the emotions that the people and teams using the product might feel at each stage.
  • Phoebe then split the attendees and invited individuals to consider the journey from either a very positive and optimistic, or a very negative and cynical position.
  • These two sets of individuals added emotions to the journey at the key points - one colour of card for positive and one for negative emotions
  • At points where the cards were concentrated, we placed further cards to highlight the ideal emotions that we would want to promote to help avoid any potential emotional pitfalls that had emerged.

What was fascinating about the session was that, as the emotional cards were added to the wall what emerged were a small number of critical 'fulcrum' points which had the possibility of a engendering very strong emotions, but also risked very negative ones. Some areas that we had assumed would promote a positive response around visibility and openness actually had a high level of risk of people feeling exposed and monitored or judged. Additionally a strong set of potential emotions emerged around the product as a whole emerged around how people might feel if it was put in front of them. What we realised was that, without our perspective on the potential benefits there was a risk of suspicion around new business technology and its potential for 'big brother' monitoring that we needed to consider and mitigate with our product features and messaging.

Emotional Take-Aways

The workshop provided some invaluable insights into our target product from the perspective of the people who would be using it. Identifying the main points that carried the greatest emotional risk allowed us to focus on those areas to ensure that they encouraged the responses we were looking for. Through the development of the initial features we tailored our approaches to specifically include steps to encourage open and democratic behaviours and discourage command-and-control, autocratic ones. Our awareness of the general risks around the perception of new products was also empowering in ensuring that we provide the right support and messaging to back up the benefits that our product can provide.

Our company brand and sales and marketing collateral all carries the messaging our software and services are for everyone in a company, not just managers. With the help of the insight that came out of the emotional journey session, we're ensuring that this is a message that is reinforced rather than put at risk as we build the product features.


We didn't use it in the session but here's an interesting post by Chris Mears on using Robert Plutchik’s emotion wheel to measure emotions through user journeys that I would consider using if repeating the exercise

Photo by Kasuma from Pexels

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