In this article, you will learn how positively your product development will be impacted once you introduce a persona.

I had been part of few trainings about how to create a user persona and I have the following observations about them.

Once the training is completed, the participants seldom used the create personas. The other observation is that the training is very theoretical, and it doesn’t provide with the participants with the practical knowledge how to create such persona on their own.

It makes me wonder, is a user persona becoming the latest buzz word we learn in the industry and we never use in the end?

Adding to that, some methodologies like Scrum encourage people to use personas. The downside is that many product owners don’t understand this concept.

Instead of a useful tool for helping them to convey the empathy towards the end user, they design stories such as “As an administrator, I would like to do…”.

“As an administrator, I would like to do…”

Usually how Product Owners define stories.

The issue with such a definition is that the development team doesn’t really know who their end users are. The focus of the product development using persona is to help the team empathetically understand what their user pains really are.

This approach also helps the product manager to convince senior manager and the development team about the feature priorities. Because the number one question on everyone’s mind will be why specific features have a higher priority.

Why it is hard to create a persona?

A few reasons you have to take into account while introducing product development using a persona approach. The pitfalls to look for are the culture in your company and focus on the project you are working on.

The company’s culture is one of the biggest obstacle. I had taken part in many meetings related to Agile implementation in companies, and I had organized a few of them. The complaints are always the same. The company’s adoption of innovation is slow, and most of them are not ready for a new way of thinking and doing work.

The other reason is the focus of the product process and the importance of it. Management might see your project as insignificant to the overall company priority. If you develop a small internal product, your management might not want to give you the time to invest in a proper user research. The other reason for that is internal politics. As an example, your project will make another product obsolete.

The other issue is the time needed to create this tool. You need to invest time upfront and talk to your current or potential customers and understand their pain points and cluster them in specific groups. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of exercises and trainings that teach you how to create a persona, but not how to gather the information needed for this tool to work. One article you could refer to and understand better what categories of customers you would have is this: Strategies for product development.

What is a user persona?

According to Wikipedia:

persona, (also user personacustomer personabuyer persona) in user-centered design and marketing is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.

Wikipedia

The goal of this tool for product development using a persona is the clustering of common characteristics and empathy for the users.

Try the following excercise. Read the two sentences below.

Sentence A: “The administrator needs to search users by last log-in time”

Sentence B: “John needs to search users by last log-in time in order to notify them that their permissions will be revoke due to inactivity”

After reading the sentences, think about them for a minute.

Which sentence, according to you, provides more information to the development team?

Most of the people will choose Sentence B as more detailed and descriptive. It is also more personal. We don’t talk about the unknown administrator. In the second case, we refer to a specific person, it might be our colleague John or a customer we had received a nice feedback from.

Tight deadlines make it is so easy to write the Sentence A and to think it is clear enough.

Why more specific descriptions is better

But if we and our team are familiar with John and we care about the work that persona is doing, there is a higher chance we will add the needed information and define clearly the user stories and trigger discussion. The discussions will show if the rest of the team are on board and could generate alternatives to the proposed story which might be even better suited for this particular problem we are trying to solve.

When your development team cares and your managers care, it is easier to not only develop products that work but also to add extra value to the end user in terms of usability and easy to use.

The next part we will discuss, what attributes a user persona has and how to apply product development using a persona process.

What are the attributes of a user persona?

In this chapter, we will discuss what are the attributes of a user persona. What makes it a useful tool and why product development using a persona is an excellent strategy.

Representative

The user persona must be representative. This means that the characteristics you had identified belong to the collective group of people you had interviewed.

It is easy to make up what our users look like and wants. However, we risk designing a solution that will appeal only to us. There are big flops related to this. One example is the Ford Edsel flop, where the automaker introduced a new car on the market that no one wanted. I am sure that the product developers working for Ford had a good intention and saw the need for such a product. In the end, it’s the market and the users who decide what would they buy and what not.

Limited in scope and demographics

What needs to happen for seniors and teenagers to use our product?

Those are two distinguished groups of people. It is like the new trend of using TikTok this product is not for everyone and they target the young demographics.

Not only that, they target people who have phones and who are willing to make videos and post them. As well as people who are easily bored thus the 15 seconds video clips. Also, people who don’t need to have a professional editing skills.

Use the example above and think about what kind of users are attracted by Facebook?

Segmentation of personas based on different needs

A big mistake for many first time entrepreneurs is to think their market is every single person. This is an impossible task, unless you are a monopoly in a very niche sector. Most of the time, the customers who will use our products are very specific and have very specific needs.

You might want to create only one persona and move on with the development. This approach will limit you and your team in handling different edge cases, which you will have. It is rarely only one set of users and one persona that you will serve.

Instead of that, it’s way better to come up with a few personas. Around three or more, which you can merge later on if you think their characteristics are very similar.

Instead of that, it’s way better to come up with a few personas. Around three or more, which you can merge later on.

Aleks Vladimirov

In the next paragraph, you will learn how to create a persona.

How to create a user persona

You should already understand the benefits of product development using a persona approach. Now it is the time to cover what are the steps to create one.

Interview extensive amount of users

The first thing we will need to do is to interview our current and potential customers. You can learn more about what strategies to apply before and during the interview by reading this article strategies for product development.

During this stage depending on the product we are depending we could focus on the quality or the quantity.

If we have an established product and we are newly assigned product manager, it might be a good idea to go for the quality. The assumption here is that you already have access to your target group, and it is way easier and cost effective to meet them face to face or over the internet and discuss what are their pain points and needs.

If you want to create a new product, the quality approach might be better. This will provide you with data sets, this could also help you see what are the overall expectations of the product you are developing and future opportunities which you might work on. Capturing useful information such as dmeographics and yearly salary might help you in the next step.

Find behavior and common characteristics

The next step in product development using a persona is to cluster behaviors and common pains, jobs to be done and gains that they expect to receive.

After this clustering you might end up with few groups, like managers, traders, marketer, influencer, coaches and so on.

You might be surprised to find out that some of them might have similar pains, but their jobs to be done will be different.

Jobs to be done are all activities that your persona would like to perform using your product. It could be writing an article on the internet. Then the pain will be finding a platform that could facilitate easy to write and publish articles, and the gain will be reaching to the target audience.

One example I had shared in the past is for the platform Medium. Based on different customer needs, you might choose to use it or not.

You can read more about it here, Medium is not the answer.

Give your persona a name

If you remember, in the beginning of this article, one of the goals we wanted to achieve by creating a user persona was empathy.

Do you know someone who doesn’t have a name? Naming something makes it very personal.

This is the difference between:

  • there is a man walking on the other side.
  • John is walking on the other side.

Having a name makes it more personal. It helps your team to focus on the specific persona and user they are developing the feature for.

Having a name for your persona is the first the next one is to make it “alive”.

Give the persona you develop a product for a description

Do you know why some books are way better than the movies based on them?

In the books, the author has no other choice but to write a detailed description. Even if they use pictures in the book, there is usually a description of the characters.

  • How do they look like?
  • What do they like?
  • Are they tall, thin, smart, funny and so on?

You can learn from their experience. If you want your persona to be widely used in your company and team, give it an appealing story.

image of a user persona called Jennifer
Jennifer, a user persona we had created for our product.

Start with the name, then build the story. Add the background, their marriege status, education. You can already see in the description that we had mentioned the customer’s pain.

Product development using a persona summary

In this article, you learned what are the benefits in creating a persona for your product.

It helps you and your team to have a common language and understanding. Persona also provides you with a compelling story to sell your ideas to the management and the development team.

Having such a tool enables your team to provide useful suggestions, based on their understanding about what the persona needs.

Last but not least. Having a persona enables you and your team to be more empathetic and more personal to the needs of your customers.

This will help you deliver more personalised products and increase the customer satisfaction.

Aleks Vladimriov is a Senior Software Developer, recognized Project Manager and Soft-skilled trainer and a coach.

Aleks Vladimirov

Solution Engineering Manager at Thales | Senior IT Professional | Startup Mentor and Product Manager

Aleks is experienced Product Manager with an engineer background and over 10 years of experience as a software developer. He works with different governments and is responsible for negotiation features and requirements, understanding the customers’ needs and supporting the senior management with regular reports and analysis. He held various positions starting as a software developer, moving to a team leader and software architect.

He strives in waterfall and agile environment alike. He is certified Scrum Master and Prince2 Practitioner and he knows how to design business processes and help teams optimize their work.
During his tenure, he had to wear many hats, prioritizing business requirements, delegating work and mentoring team members, creating mockups with Balsamiq, providing MS Project plan to the senior management.

He had worked in many international teams, located in the same city or distributed in different countries and continents. He had been a team leader of cross functional international team of 8 people.

In his current position, he is very much client focused. He has excellent presentation skills.
He delivers training sessions on presentation skills and leadership and he had helped hundred of people to improve their presentation skills.

He is also interested in creating more positive changes in the workplace by using entrepreneurship skills.
He had won startup competition where his team had validated and develop a business idea from scratch.

In his free time, he writes in his blog about effective product development.

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