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Get Better Client Feedback Using Pain Charts

Filed Under Software Process, Trade Tools

Everyone has seen the pain chart at the doctor’s office. With the little faces describing the level of pain, it is a simple concept and a very powerful communication technique. Both children and adults can relate to the pain chart thus aiding the doctor with accurate direction.

A Pain Chart

Because everyone can relate to this chart the same, what happens when you use it in a client meeting? Let me tell you – great things.

Getting client feedback is sometimes very difficult. Some clients don’t want to complain. Others complain to much. Most do not know how to communicate their level of frustration towards changes. If you allow clients to communicate in terms of the pain chart, communication has now boiled down to a single number.

This new streamlined communication has many benefits:

  • Shorter meetings as discussion is held only when needed
  • Introverted clients get to voice their opinions
  • Extroverted clients don’t get the opportunity to monopolize discussions
  • Results are more consistent across clients (5 to one is approximately 5 to another)

If you are looking for a unique and fun way to communicate with your clients, give the pain chart method a chance. I think you will find the results a 1.

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5 Responses to “Get Better Client Feedback Using Pain Charts”

  1. Jeremy N on October 11th, 2007 3:53 pm

    Great idea, I wish I would have thought/read/heard of it earlier.

    With that said I believe the best thing any pm/ba/etc can do with their client is to lay down a framework (setting expectations) of how a true day-to-day project runs and not some marketing babble about the perfect project with huge savings (save 150% compared to our competitors). During my client interactions I felt that guiding (training) the client into realistic expectations, being up-front and honest (when issues came up or estimates are off), and giving them the consequences (options along with a set of pros/cons) of decisions so they can make the best choice for them (including walking away from the project) leads to the best possible outcome.

  2. Justin Deltener on October 11th, 2007 8:34 pm

    I’m going to assume you’re using the Pain Chart as a metaphor for an attempt to map the range of frustration into something workable that is common to all. God help me if you’re actually touting using the real thing. Alas, I’m having a difficult time swallowing your list of benefits…

    “Shorter meetings as discussion is held only when needed”
    Because of theoretically universal frustration scale? You may have great confidence in some magical scaling mechanism but will the client? It may be enough for you, but my money is on the client feels more alienated and separated from the process than if you were to ask specific questions, get your answers and reflect your understanding. Pretty Meat N Taters sort of stuff..

    “Introverted clients get to voice their opinions”
    I can just hear the person saying.. Before I was too shy to voice my opinion; with this new pain chart though I’m ready to face the world!

    “Extroverted clients don’t get the opportunity to monopolize discussions”
    Chart or not, Extroverted clients will tell you how they feel in great detail. If you use a diagram/chart approach, they will take 10 minutes telling you why they pointed to 6) on the ouchy scale.

    I’ve read some pretty good articles here @ CS but I’m calling Fluffy Fluff Fluff on this one Max!

  3. Max Pool on October 12th, 2007 6:29 am


    Let me give you a physical example – remote usability testing.

    I find old fashioned usability testing inefficient. Cameras, two way mirrors, hordes of information architects, it’s too much.

    Instead send out a pile of pain chart pictures with usability tasks to accomplish. When they are finished completing the task, have them circle how “painful” it was.

    If 2+ people found a particular task higher than a 6 – you now have a reason to advance communication about what was difficult about that task.

    The introverts have a simple, non-confrontational means to communicate, the extroverts are limited to only circling a number, and your analysis for usability problems is reduced to scanning a pile of pain charts searching for common hot spots.

    You didn’t have to talk to anyone! How is that for streamlined!

  4. Justin Deltener on October 12th, 2007 7:49 am


    That clears up a bit more of your intent. In your article you mentioned using this in a client meeting. Are you implying a meeting where only a very specific set of metrics need to be measured to do some kind of preliminary data gathering before committing resources to a more in depth cycle?

    When I first read this it scared me quite a bit. Yet another article trying to develop a programmatic means of abstracting raw binary data from clients. All too often developers and managers are emotionally disconnected from the people they work with. There is simply no substitution for a developer that has a direct, meaningful, deeply understood and empathetic connection to the client. You can’t beat it. This of course takes years to develop as a skill for the resource and months to extend this kind of relationship to a new client but I think it should be all our goals to attempt. The net result of this relationship is obvious to the client, strengthens trust and ensures reciprocation of respect.

    Being able to think on your clients behalf without having to bottleneck communication is absolutely invaluable.

    I can see using some kind of chart metric for purposely disposable clients, only if we all keep in sight the larger scope, long term objectives to be more personal and meaningful in our communications for the other 99% of out clients.

  5. Angela Watters » Blog Archive » Face in the Crowd on June 2nd, 2010 3:57 pm

    […] the face to be a cross between the typical face of one of these little figures and a face from a pain chart in a doctor’s office or hospital. Face in the Crowd | 2010 | Uncategorized | Comments […]

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