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Hey, Nice Persona!

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Part 2 of the "Epic Product" series

One of the biggest problems in many of the companies where I have worked is inability to determine priorities.  Priorities are typically set by external groups in response to crisis and there is no way to hold a rational debate about the relative importance of a given feature.  To have that debate, everyone involved has to understand the priorities of the users.  However, most organizations don’t have a clear agreement on who is on that list of users.  In other words, there is often organizational confusion around a single key question:

Who wants the product and why?


Every organization tries to answer this question, but the reality is that the information is scattered throughout the company and there is little coherence or agreement between departments.  The Sales department knows who buys the product and might have an idea of who uses it.  However, customer support has a much better idea of who uses it, although they have no visibility on the buyers.  Meanwhile, development often has no clear picture of the users.

What is a Persona?

A Persona is a composite picture of a typical person that buys and / or uses the product.  Personas are divided into Buyers and Users.

  • Buyer Personas - these people are typically consulted during the buying process and will include people that do not actually use the product – e.g., Security Officer, VP Operations, CTO / COO / CIO.  Often products have to satisfy such people in ways that are often not given the right level of attention until it is too late (e.g., security guidelines, HA requirements, cost, licensing, etc).
  • User Personas - these are the people that actually use the product and they can come in all sizes, colors and flavors.

You can also prioritize your personas into Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.  This helps to determine which users' needs represent the most important selling points of the product, which helps prioritize the development effort.

A good set of personas does more than just define the various roles of your target audience - it should describe their attitudes, likes and dislikes, working environments, how they approach their work, what motivates them and so on.  Each of these aspects of their character influences how you should build our product (just think about the personas that would describe an iPhone user and an Android user).  If you don't understand how your users think, you will have a lot of difficulty creating a "must have" product for them.

Houston, this is Permission Control…

Personas are also great for defining permission-based control (RBAC) mechanisms in your product.  Using a well-defined set of Personas, you can create a grid with your personas across the top and your features down the side.  If you've done a good job with your personas, that grid should write itself.

Neo, you look like you’re waiting for something…

Having a common understanding of the full set of personas has enormous benefits:

  • Provides a common language between departments
  • Creates an inherent “mission statement” that helps to focus the organization
  • Provides the basis for discussion of priorities in all aspects of the business
  • Develops greater  developers to see the product, not just the code

If you don’t have your personas defined yet, get started.  You’ll be happy you did.

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Jonathan Ginter is Director of Product Management at ORSYP where he is responsible for the evolution and user experience of ORSYP’s entire product line. Jonathan has 20+ years of rich experience as a developer, architect and product manager for a variety of systems, including web-based apps, embedded solutions and command-and-control systems. He has worked for BMC and CGi as well as a number of smaller companies and startups.  He enjoys tackling the “impossible” and breaking myths as part of his day-to-day work.
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