User personas - why bother?

When explaining personas during workshops, I almost always hear the question, "Isn't this personas stuff just fluff? How exactly are these personas going to provide any real value to what you build?" My response to this question usually encompasses 3 key points.

User personas - why bother?
  1. Building a solution that's tailored to one employee work pattern is a recipe for disaster
  2. Personas provide a shared understanding of who and how employees will be using a future solution
  3. Personas can help keep your business requirements and success metrics ‘grounded’

Before I address each of these key points in this post, let's start with a working definition of personas.

Personas attempt to describe a representative set of users within a company and how they will interact with future IT solutions. A persona should not only paint a picture of their work experience, responsibilities and business/technical skillset, it should also include the key benefits and features the future solution should satisfy.

Building a solution that's tailored to one employee work pattern is a recipe for disaster

It goes without saying that employee work patterns are becoming increasingly diverse and complex. Designing an IT solution that doesn't take into account a company workforce's generational and experiential differences is setting itself up for failure. For example, consider a new hire using their company's SharePoint intranet versus a senior executive. A new hire who just joined the company has very different motivations for accessing an intranet than a senior executive. While a new hire will care quite a bit about being able to use the intranet to find and establish professional and social contacts within the company, a senior executive with critical time demands may only use it to access the latest financial reports from his subordinates. By taking the time to analyze and define personas that account for the multitude of needs and work patterns in your workforce, a company can ensure a new solution remains flexible and adaptive to the changing workforce.

Personas provide a shared understanding on who and how employees will be using a future solution

Communication is key in any project. When socializing the vision of a new solution, it can easily devolve into reviewing an endless and mind-numbing spreadsheet full of business requirements and features. Personas are a powerful communication tool for explaining how and why the solution is being built a certain way. In fact, during our workshops we often come up with simple names for remembering a persona (Phil the Executive, Sharon the Site Administrator, Will the New Hire, etc.). It's much easier for people to recall features and functionality when it easily maps to a name whose work pattern ‘mentality’ they can quickly recall. It also doesn't hurt to include a fictitious profile picture to help the personas resonate with project stakeholders.

Personas can help keep your business requirements ‘grounded’

Personas are a constant help and are a welcome addition to conducting requirements workshops. While we at BrightStarr enjoy encouraging our clients to reach for the stars when it comes to brainstorming and envisioning a perfect solution, there comes a time where hard decisions need to be made about what specific features will be available on day one of go live. Reviewing the key needs of each persona can be an invaluable technique for helping stakeholders reach a consensus or compromise on what features will be in scope, versus deferred to later phase, versus out of scope. It can help maximize ROI by identifying features/requirements that will provide business value to several personas. In addition to this, it's also valuable in uncovering and weeding out ‘pet projects’ that potentially only satisfy a small subset of users while requiring huge time commitments for delivery.

‘Bleeding Edge’ Personas

Aside from articulating these key benefits to my clients, I also like to challenge them with considering ‘bleeding edge’ personas. While these personas may actually represent a sub-group of users within one of your main personas, they reflect users who leverage cutting edge work patterns. One potential persona I've seen becoming more important for many clients represents employees who wish to leverage Enterprise Social capabilities in getting their work done. These employees not only want to interact with a solution across various devices, they are all about helping build knowledge sharing networks within their company. They want to easily reach out to peers outside of their direct team for feedback on deliverables as well as learning from the insights of more senior colleagues. With SharePoint and Yammer, companies can now harness and capture the fruit of these employees' ingenuity and collaboration work patterns. As Will Saville recently said in, Build your social strategy ‘The Times They Are a-Changin,' "…organisations that want to attract and retain the top up and coming talent must have both the tools and a strategy for enterprise social for no other reason than the fact that for most of the younger populations of the western world, social media platforms are becoming the defacto way to communicate." Therefore, it is important for clients to consider segments of their workforce that are known for innovation and adapting to the latest technologies and work patterns.

In summary, don’t skimp on taking the time to analyze your employees’ work patterns and crafting personas, as they’re an invaluable tool during the Engage, Analyze, and Design phases of a project.

In our projects we take a unique approach to requirement gathering which is tried and tested and allows us to deliver truly world-class solutions time and time again. Why not download our free Abt Associates case study via the button below, for a deep insight into how we completed this award winnning project!

Michael Draisey Head of Development

Michael is BrightStarr’s Head of Development, although in reality, he does a lot more than that! He is ultimately responsible for the delivery of solutions to clients but also functions as a Product Manager for Unily. Michael is excited about new technology and also has an internal role as a new technology evangelist, spreading the word about hot new software to his colleagues all over the world. Michael was part of the award winning Linklaters project team and has a particular knack for translating complex business requirements into neat technical solutions.

Michael plays 5 a side football and enjoys kung fu in his spare time and is a big fan of the outdoors!

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