Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic Persona Project Team

What can others learn from your approach to promoting empathy for users?: 
Every successful company focuses its attention towards understanding the needs of customers, but rarely does it focus the same level of attention towards their own employees. Mayo Clinic’s primary value states “The needs of the patient come first” and the organization puts a high value on attracting and retaining the best and the brightest in the field in order to attain that value. Keeping employees satisfied and productive is critical to maintaining Mayo’s standing as a world-renounced medical institution, and leveraging research tools like the personas helps increase overall empathy, awareness, and compassion for fellow employees.
Personas meet an internal need
As is the case in many other large organizations, applications and information products are developed in-house by Mayo's large IT department, but frequently designers and developers on the project are unable to see real end users interact with an application or website or hear direct feedback. The personas help project members understand and empathize with user groups they may never see face to face.
Lots of traffic, lack of understanding
We went into this project knowing that intranets are not nearly as sexy as externally-facing websites. Frequently they are an afterthought, akin to the user manual in the glovebox of a new car. Dedicated intranet teams have been growing in size and skill over the last decade (according to the Nielsen Norman Group) but direct user research activities have remained low priority until very recently. This is unfortunate because the volume of dedicated traffic that flows through an enterprise intranet can put that of an externally focused internet site to shame. Since the audience is a captive one, it’s possible to gather data on them from Human Resources. The hardware and software ecosystem is narrow, making it potentially easier to design to a focused internal market.
Internet vs Intranet sites
There are many similarities between internet and intranet sites. Users interact with them in about the same way, for example, and basic UX design methodology still applies. There are also some important differences, and it is up to the individuals who are charged with intranet stewardship to figure out what external philosophies, tricks and best practices can be wholeheartedly adopted for internal application and which ones should be completely tossed out. The best way to make this determination is to know your users and don’t make assumptions. You don’t need expensive recording technology or lab setups anymore – it’s possible to gather a great deal of user intelligence through simply talking with users and sitting beside them as they use your product. If you can show a few strategic wins and get a small budget, the sky is the limit to what you can find out that will improve your ROI and your employees’ productivity.
What research, data, and other information does your team use upfront, and how has that been effective in generating informed empathy?: 


To create the 40+ personas who make up the institutional persona library, the team relied on a group of interviewers who conducted hundreds of hours of face-to-face interviews with representatives from each target work area. Every interview was conducted according to a protocol which was designed with help from Human Factors International.

Interview notes and audio were then jointly analyzed by the entire project team during 6 half-day workshops, then used to develop draft personas. These personas were given to subject-matter-experts in the work areas they represented to approve and validate. Before they were published on the intranet website, HR data was used to provide important demographic information such as gender and age.

Where to start?

One of the biggest challenges in the beginning of the project was to decide how to segment the Mayo’s employee population. Even the representative from HFI admitted he’d never tackled this size of a problem. Through a lot of discussion, consensus building and a few gamestorming exercises, the team agreed on a strategy to target job classes with the largest populations. Assisted with data from HR, the project team interviewed physicians and surgeons, as well as populations that might be considered less “important” like patient transporters and warehouse employees.

Unexpected discoveries, new relationships

Throughout the persona creation process, members of the team would exclaim how fascinating it was to talk to so many different people across the organization, and to experience how their colleagues contributed to the overall success of the Clinic. Besides achieving the original project goal, through these interviews the team was able to establish personal contacts in dozens of work areas across the organization. Since Mayo Clinic runs on relationships and who you know, this has proved to be an unexpected bonus.

What does your team do to maintain and fine-tune its empathy for users on an ongoing basis during the course of a project?: 

The persona core team meets monthly to update each other on presentation opportunities, information gathered which might warrant a change to one or more personas, or share stories of successful persona usage experienced or overheard. Core team members evangelize user-centered awareness by demonstrating usage of personas and other empathy-building tools like experience mapping and contextual interviews with their own projects.

Please describe one or more compelling examples of how empathy for users has positively affected your team’s successfulness.: 

The persona intranet site is one of the key ways information about the personas is spread throughout the organization, which includes the new persona posters. Personal evangelism by the project core team members is also a critical component of spreading awareness of this resource throughout the organization.

Each of the team members has his or her own “day job” which benefits from regular use of the information gained during participation in the persona project. Role-modeling usage themselves, teaching others how to access the information and introducing the personas into the development process at the appropriate time is important as well.

In April 2014 large-format posters will be made available in Mayo’s central publication warehouse, for project teams to request free of charge when they want to take advantage of the persona library. PDFs will also be available for download from the website as well. It’s been our experience that having the personas displayed prominently in a project area can help increase overall empathy of end users of a product.