Monday, September 8, 2014

Role of Persona in Product Feature Definition and Decision

A persona is a fictional character which is a representation of a set of potential customers. Persona, the term is used in the book "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" by Alan Cooper. The basic paradigm shift that comes with the usage of persona is "If I would have done this, I would have done that way" to "How the persona would deal with that situation". If you think, it's a major shift in the way we think. This takes you closed to the paradigm of think like a customer. Usage of persona makes the process easier. 

Persona are usually given names and face but be careful about that. In the process of giving name and
face, don't attach some other attributed inadvertently. You may not want to attach more than that is required and definitely don't want to attach completely unrelated attributes. I think the danger of giving a name and face is that, for you it may be unrelated but for some other team member or stakeholder this might lead to some association. I prefer to name them as some Latin alphabets like alpha, beta, gamma or just plain x,y,z. Attaching a gender also may lead to some association, so better to keep them faceless. Putting no face and giving a name which has no meaning helps in keeping the right abstraction level. 

Another possibility is to use the roles that are going to access the system, however that at times creates confusion in implementation as the persona as roles may not directly match the engineering implementation. This also leads to the possibility of certain persona getting skipped, who may not be the end user of the system but may play a strong role in product buying decision.

Definition of a Persona

What are the important attributes that needs to be defined to provide a character to the persona. Also look into this exercise from your context. Don't get into the trap of over specifying. The important characterization that needs to be done to define a persona are:
  • How the persona is going to use the system? What they are trying to achieve with it? One simple way to achieve this is to think in terms of inputs and outputs. When the user starts interacting with the system, what kind of input, data the persona has got. And when those inputs or data is fed into the system what output they are expecting to achieve. 
  • Based on the kind of product you are building, the other traits to capture for a persona is the demographic and cultural details. It's about defining the relevant context in which the persona would be using the system.  This may or may not be relevant in your case, so define it if this is really needed. 
Persona's are helpful in outlining the important work flows and features of a system. That can be done independently also, without involving the concept of persona. However the advantage that persona brings, is to take the discussion from "If I would have done this..." to "The persona X would have done this...". At a psychological level, this also avoids taking personal positions from individual perspective and keeps the discussion neutral. "If I would have been.." is dangerous in product definitions as this inadvertently creates personal positions and ego clashes. 

How Persona are identified

You might want to look into market research data, sales patterns and doing surveys and interviews to find the right set of persona. There is no hard and fast rule about how many types of persona should be there. Too many will dilute each persona and is a big maintenance.  Too few may load an individual persona. At category level, I find three set to be of importance around which the persona  can be built.
  • End user of system
  • Admin of the system
  • Decision maker about buying the system.
There may be more persona in each category. 

The other parameter could be the roles in the system, however be careful in not tying implementation roles to persona as this might create impedance  in future and might bake certain things which may not be desired.

Think about why we need persona. It's all about creating a vocabulary to discuss about the product features and requirements so that all stakeholders talk in same terms. Keep that goal in focus, you will be able to create right set (or shall I say orthogonal set) of persona.

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