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Why Technology Requires Empathy

Technology implementations often overlook an important element: the end user. An end user is the person who relies on new technology to perform critical activities and is therefore significantly impacted over the long run by the technology initiative. The end user can be someone within the organization like an employee who will be saving and using documents in an application, or an external individual who interfaces with an application such as a City website to register a business.

As a result, a thorough understanding of the end user plays a critical role in the development of an effective solution. The way to attain a thorough understanding? Empathy.

Defining Empathy
By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. For our team, when executing complex technology implementations, that translates into consideration of every obstacle and opportunity as a touchpoint for the end user. We create solutions that reflect that.

The Empathy Balancing Act
Empathy is a balancing act of being able to think and feel like an end user – a balance that takes continual practice to achieve.

People who take a very logical approach to understanding an end user’s perspective are at risk of over analyzing the situation and becoming disconnected. In contrast, being overly attached and engrossed in emotions results in feelings of intense sympathy. Sympathy can create an unproductive cycle of organizational criticism without an eye to a solution. While being sympathetic can lead to feeling for the end user, it does not lead to feeling with the end user. By feeling with, the connection to the end user improves. A collaborative environment for problem solving is created.

Why Technology Needs Empathy
Applying the concept of empathy to technology implementations leads to a stronger end-to-end process. Requirements definition, solution selection, development, implementation, testing, and solution demonstration experience the benefit of increased efficiency and effectiveness. When empathy is applied, morale improves, milestones are reached, and a viable solution is delivered to the end user.

Being Empathetic
Being empathetic requires practice. To encourage empathy, there are several mechanisms that can be used:

  • Connection: Face-to-face conversations, ideally in a casual setting like coffee
  • Immersion: Job shadowing in the end user’s environment
  • Collaboration: Design Thinking activities to solution around pain points

 We work through these activities during discovery and solution creation, as well as throughout implementation to ensure that a solution is being developed to fit the needs. Often, we find that interviewing end users offers different results than immersion activities. A good consultant can empathetically bring these together to understand end-user needs.

The most successful technology implementations involve project teams who are continuously applying the principle of empathy. When you understand your end users, you can develop a solution that effectively meets, if not exceeds, their needs. The needs are considered throughout the process, at every decision point. This ongoing consideration leads to effective change management, meaningful training, and, ultimately, successful implementations.

Before you begin your next technology project, stop, and think about ways you can apply the concept of empathy to make and take technology actions and decisions.


About the Author

Max Brundige is a business and systems analyst for KSM Consulting. Daily, Max is focused on connecting people and process through the right application of technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.