6 comments

  • Mike Brand, almost 7 years ago

    I work at a medium size enterprise software company. Recently we tried using personas, but couldn't get them to catch on. This is my examination of why. I'd love to hear any experiences you've all had with using personas.

    1 point
    • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, almost 7 years ago (edited almost 7 years ago )

      For me the most effective way I know to get persona more fully accepted into an organisation is to ensure that as many people as possible are involved in their creation and ongoing maintenance.

      With a focus on the "ongoing maintenance" because customers and markets and the world changes over time. Having a one off "build persona" project is almost certainly doomed to failure in anything but the short term, because the details will drift out of sync with reality.

      (Anecdote: Had one client do some terribly stuff with their mobile work because of persona. The user research that went into them was immaculate – and they spent a lot of money doing it) but the research was done 18 months before the iPhone was released. And now it was 18 months after the iPhone had been released. And the world, and customer expectations of mobile, etc. had changed.)

      These days I focus on having the product teams own the persona, rather than it be something delivered by a separate group. Focus on early alignment, and then do ongoing research and refinement as we go.

      This is a copy/paste of something I wrote on another list about it…


      Broadly speaking — while I like persona for the way they can help get alignment, encourage empathy, communicate research and help generate ideas — I don’t like the separate research phase, siloed groups, and fixed artefacts they tend to produce.

      They’re especially troublesome when you’re poking around in an area that’s some way from product-market fit, since you end up spending N weeks/months researching one group, just before the team as a whole does a market pivot and you throw all your work away.

      So I began poking at ways to get the whole team more involved, and ways to de-risk the way we approached modelling and understanding the customer.

      First port of call — ad-hoc persona & empathy maps. These are awesome tools to help the whole team get alignment quickly. They’re less useful at getting the team to understand how accurate their model of the customer(s) are. So I started playing with ways we could more start making things those aspects more explicit.

      This has evolved into a sort of three step process:

      1. Define: Get initial alignment and a persona skeleton(s)
      2. Refine: Incrementally improve over time
      3. Realign: Periodically step back and look at the bigger picture

      In a bit more detail:

      1. Define: Get initial alignment and persona skeleton(s)

      Get everybody in the same room who has come vaguely close to the customer(s). Get a customer or two if you can. Do the usual ad-hoc / empathy mapping type exercises. Aim is to get everybody on the same page, even if it’s the wrong page. Sometimes just an afternoon, often just one day, two days tops.

      So far so normal. The new bit is this…

      Once we have agreed our ad-hoc persona / empathy maps / whatever, we rip 'em up and get all the individual "facts" on post-it notes. We then have a group exercise that places them on the Scale of Truthiness (http://www.slideshare.net/adrianh/lean-persona/33). Things we made up towards the left, thing’s we’re sure of towards the right.

      This helps bring out our confidence in different aspects of our customer model and the evidence we have to the whole group.

      This can lead to some entertaining discussions:

      Bob: All of our customers have smartphones Mary: Bullshit. None of our customers have smartphones. Customer: Erm… I don’t… but I’m just about to buy one. Everybody: Hmmmmm…

      I usually tweak the scale at the end of the exercise so nothing ends up "true".

      So at the end of this we have one or more persona ’skeletons’ that the team can align on, but also show very explicitly the confidence we have in elements that make up our model of the customer.

      2. Refine: Incrementally improve over time

      The team works to formalise the structure of the skeleton. Rather than a continuum folk group the different aspects into different buckets of confidence, and define rules for how things move between the buckets.

      So a team might have four buckets: Made up, some evidence, lots of evidence, probably-true.

      Rules would be things like:

      • If we see it in four interviews it can move out of made up.
      • If we see it in eight more interviews it can move to some-evidence
      • If we use it in an MVP experiment that validates, it can move to probably true
      • If we don’t use it to make a product decision in a month we throw it away
      • If it doesn’t move forward a group in a month, move it back to the last bucket
      • … and so on…

      The particular representations and rules vary a lot between teams. Sometimes folk do this as a traditional left-to-right kanban type board. Interestingly a couple had them run right-to-left with "more true" to the right. A few went a colour coding route and had red, yellow, green post-it notes.

      The representation and the rules evolved over time. Folk iterated on the process as well as the model itself.

      This all leads to an artefact that expresses the team’s current process of understanding the customer — in the same way that backlogs and story maps express the team’s current process of understanding the product.

      Which is stupidly useful. For a whole bunch of reasons:

      • The usual alignment stuff
      • It lets the whole team see the results of user research work as it happens (folk come and move things on the board)
      • Encourages the whole team to participate in that research. They own it. It’s their artefact.
      • Helps folk make smarter decisions (we’re were about to build a feature for persona X, but the relevant bits are all on red post-it notes, that looks high risk, we should probably do some light weight research to firm that stuff up first, etc.).
      • And a bunch more that I’m too lazy on a Friday night to write about.

      3. Realign: Periodically step back and look at the bigger picture

      This step was added more recently. We found a few places where, despite having the persona up in the team room and continually poking at it, we occasionally missed the wood for the trees. So we added a longer-term cadence to explicitly revisit the persona and their relationship to the business. Looking for things like:

      • We never reference this persona in product decisions. We should bin it.
      • Are we seeing new groups in our ongoing research? Are we missing persona?
      • Persona A is really persona A1 and persona A2 - we should split it.
      • Persona X and Y never cause us to make different product decisions — we should merge 'em

      This in turn may take us to places where we reassess the business model or product direction. New persona are a common cause of tweakage.


      Well… that’s the short version anyway. What I really like about this approach (compared to traditional persona, empathy maps and ad-hoc persona) is the focus on communicating risk and confidence, not truth. We’re not saying "this is the customer", we’re saying "this is our current understanding of the customer" — and making it very, very obvious to the team when we’re making decisions on things we don’t currently understand.

      Hopefully this makes some vague sort of sense ;-) I’ve got a half written article on this that I should really find the time to finish!

      3 points
      • Mike Brand, almost 7 years ago

        Thanks for the detailed response! I'd definitely be interested in reading the final version of the article when it's done!

        This idea of ad-hoc personas seems interesting. I can definitely see how the discussions about the users really helping get everyone on the same page. I also like the rules for moving things from less evidence to more evidence because it also helps surface research to the full team.

        How important do you feel the 'realness' of a persona is? We've been trying to follow the Cooper method where you treat them like people. Calling out areas of less evidence seems like it could impact their realness.

        0 points
        • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, almost 7 years ago

          How important do you feel the 'realness' of a persona is? We've been trying to follow the Cooper method where you treat them like people. Calling out areas of less evidence seems like it could impact their realness.

          Haven't really notice any difference myself. We still name persona. We still talk about them conversationally as people during product development. Some folk have sketched pictures & added photos.

          In fact, if anything, I think it's easier for some folk to see these as "real" since they know they're based on reality — coz they were involved in the creation of the persona — rather than having to trust third parties.

          1 point
  • Thea Oliver, almost 7 years ago

    I always thought that personas were there to personify your 'typical' target market. For example, what their barriers to purchase are like, what they are looking for, how they go about looking for products, how much they would know about it. But much like a plan, will be tweaked as you go, gaining more knowledge of the situation. You'd also probably have a few (Virgin, for instance, have 4).

    I do mine from a marketing perspective so not sure if that's different to designing a product but i imagine the principals are the same.

    I find them useful as an educated view of our customers' pain-points and to help you not panic about trying to target everyone (which never works!) You can't please all of the people all of the time though so I see them more as guidelines.

    0 points
  • Pasquale D'SilvaPasquale D'Silva, almost 7 years ago

    That's why we only ever make software with 'musers' in mind: http://elepath.tumblr.com/post/31407048037/whos-your-muser

    0 points