From UIE Brain Sparks: When you kick off a project right, everything is much easier. When that doesn’t happen, the team pays the price. We’ve all seen projects where, part way in, a well-intentioned executive derailed the team by changing the direction. To prevent this, we want to put everyone with the power to take the project off course, on to the same course.
Tamara Adlin has developed a great technique to make that alignment happen, which she calls Ad Hoc Personas. Her method, borrowed from research-based personas, creates characters out of information the organization already has at their fingertips. They’re inexpensive and easy to create, ensuring a customer focus from the very start of the project. This remix of tweets from “The Power of Ad-Hoc Personas”, a UIE virtual seminar by Tamara herself, tells you how.
I missed out on Tamara’s webinar, unfortunately, and decided once again to compile a summary from what others have tweeted about it using the hashtag #uievs. Last time I did a similar remix of Steve Portigal’s Deep Dive Interviewing Secrets. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn, working with the material this way. I don’t intend to make a habit of it though, so don’t expect a 3rd remix anytime soon.
But for now, here’s my remix of tweets by those attending Tamara Adlin’s UIE Webinar on “The Power of Ad Hoc Personas: Truly Practical Methods to Get Your Organization On the Same Page”. Enjoy!
The Rules of Persona Work
- Rule 1: If you don’t have clear goals, the persona effort won’t work. The dirty little secret: no one knows what the company’s goals are.
- Rule 2: Get “where the buck stops” stakeholders involved from the get-go. The executives must be involved from the start.
- Rule 3: You must align personas with goals.
- Rule 4: Use @tamaraadlin’s magical persona template.
- Rule 5: Use tools that force people to use the personas.
- Rule 6: Create stories, not solutions.
The Business Value of Ad-Hoc Personas
- Personas are a valuable part of the process whether you’re working on the inside or the outside of an organization, big or small.
- Promises practical ways to get the whole organization on the same page, hopefully avoiding/preventing seagull management. “Swoop and poop” or “Seagull Management” = when executives fly over the project and crap all over it, then fly away.
- “Myth: If you don’t have data, personas are worthless.”
- Ad-hoc personas are the same as data-driven personas except they’re created in direct collaboration with high-level stakeholders. Unlike data-drive personas, ad-hoc personas are a focus and communication tool first, and a product design tool second.
- If you don’t have clear goals, don’t bother!!
- Ad-hoc personas can (and should) be created before you collect any more data about your users or customers. Most companies aren’t suffering from lack of data. They’re suffering from lack of focus. “Most companies are so confused, the last thing they need is more data.” Creating ad-hoc personas is a useful exercise to untangle an executive team and refocus language on users – instead of internal speak.
- Why care? Personas are already floating around your organization, and they’re probably wrong. Personas can solve unclear business objectives. Disorganized assumptions are like ghosts. They will haunt your project. Use ad-hoc personas to bring clarity and focus to your organization.
- When developing rich experiences across multiple channels with a large team, few people have the same users in mind when making decisions. People think about people, so the team has “hidden personas” in their head. Hidden personas wreak havoc on products. People are making small compromises that end up becoming huge problems for lots of people.
- Ad hoc personas can be used when time and money doesn’t allow for data to be collected. Collecting more data is expensive and often not very helpful. Ad-hoc personas can be created quickly and inexpensively. And chances are you’re not sending people to the moon. Not everything has to be super-complex. Ad-hoc personas solve basic problems.
- So even without data, getting everyone on the same page about who the users are is better than the hidden personas that already exist. Shared, prioritized, well-communicated personas align the whole team – inside and out. Even without data, the picture is much better. Not having data is a lesser evil than not having focus.
- “Barnacle-based” design happens. Over the years, you add more features and clog up the works of something that was once well designed. Product starts out one way, and ends up a totally different animal. A lot of tiny compromises add up to big compromises.
- Corporate Underpants: when your organization structure shows on your website. “Are your corporate underpants showing?”
- Marketing vs. design personas: marketing drives eyeballs to your product, product design moves those eyeballs around once they arrive. A Website is like a party where it’s loud and people are yelling at you saying “look over here”, “no look over here”. Marketing gets consumers to show up at the front door, now how do we answer their questions? Product design is about what happens once people are inside.
Starting the Ad-Hoc Persona Process
- Define goals, value propositions and list of all alternative words for “user” in first meeting. USER is a 4-letter word. Decide and align on your top three business objectives before moving into personas – otherwise they won’t work.
- Identify top three measurable business objectives for the company/project. “What does success look like from a business perspective?” Make sure that each objective is measurable in a specific way. “Increase revenue” and “decrease costs” are not clear, measurable goals. “Increase revenue by X% through online tools” is, however.
- Write down your guesses for the goals and make sure you get them approved by the execs before you move forward with the project. The dirty little secret: No one remembers corporate and brand objectives fully – so make them write them down AGAIN. Don’t confront executives with a need for a list of goals. Give them something to react to.
- Executives need to link personas to goals. If executives create the personas, they will defend them.
- As business goals change, previously developed personas can still hang around but you might need to re-prioritize them accordingly. Personas tend to be evergreen because users’ goals don’t change that much over time.
Design Mapping – Yellow Sticky Exercise
- Get everyone in the room to write all their goals on post-its, then categorize.
- Each sticky gets a person and a situation written on it.
- Quick Sort using the “words for user” as categories.
- Hard Sort: Cross out old language and reform each sticky into a “I want / I need” statement. Let executives use their own language, then help them adapt it to “I want / I need” statements. This is hard, but it will be a major sea change.
- Write all the “I want / I need” statements on the whiteboard and look for patterns.
- Find patterns across the user goals. (You’re doing all this together in a room.) Put like items together, and there are your personas.
- Sort out the statements and group them, collapsing like-minded goals.
- Collect needs under each type of person.
Ad-hoc personas = testable hypotheses. It will give you a place to start gathering more data. This process will give you roles and goals which is the first step to developing personas. This exercise is less about accuracy, and more about the team sharing information and the same goals.
Q: Why we should call these “ad-hoc personas” instead of “target audiences”?
- Don’t name the personas until you are comfortable with them. If you’re planning data-driven personas, it’s good not to give ad-hoc personas names/titles in case you need to revise them. If the data changes them drastically you could be set back.
- You really should get everyone in the same room when working on sketch personas. Best to have the conversation together. But calling them “target audiences” might create a turf war with marketing, so instead consider calling them “sketch personas”.
Working With Stakeholders
Ad-hoc personas are less about getting to the right answers, and more about getting the business executives to share how they’re thinking. Get the executives to barf out their assumptions and organize them. Let them prove to themselves that their assumptions are limiting. Get the old ways of thinking out first to get to new – “You’ve gotta get the scribbles out before you can draw.” Let them “bark” now, rather than later. Prove to them who their personas are.
Potential Seagulls/Key Stakeholders:
- Your boss, grand-boss and great-grand-boss. @tamaraadlin refers to your boss’s boss and your boss’s boss’s boss as “grand boss” and “great grand boss”.
- The right stakeholders to work with are the ones with the power to “poop” on your ideas.
The Prioritizing Game
Use prioritizing game to find out where executives really want the direction of the company to go. Your executives aren’t hiding their goals from you…they don’t even really know them! They’re your #1 user – guide them through the process. Ifexecutive team can’t agree on the priority of the personas, how are you ever going to design a product they believe in?
- Each person has points to give to each persona. Ask them: What is the value if you don’t please this user?
- No two personas can get the same score, as it makes the priorities of team members clearer. Disparate score among the team drives conversation.
- Answer the following about each persona: “If we don’t make _______ ridiculously happy, we have failed.” All personas are important, but is it more important that Sally be super happy or Carl? That really gets people talking.
- Use a descriptive name for your persona: Carl Quickcash for an ATM user for example.
- Persona elements: Alliterative, descriptive name + Photo + Weighted score/priority + Category (admin, end user etc) + Key Quote + Story + Key Questions + Answers we want to give.
- Make sure the persona’s questions are framed in their terms, not yours. I really like seeing the persona include questions from his/her perspective AND how the company will answer those questions.
- Use quotes to connect the person’s voice to their goals.
- Oh, by the way statements: Statements to meet a goal the user has, but maybe isnt asking us to help with. What we (the organization) can do for her that she wouldn’t even think to ask for.
- Don’t forget to hold onto that weighted score. It can change over time, but it’s important to remind everyone who has priority.
Persona-weighted feature matrix
- Persona-weighted features are a nice way to keep the personas alive in a project and ongoing – aligns persona to business priorities.
- Features listed on left, personas as column heads each with a weight.
- Take each feature and plot it against each persona, then score & add up. The weighted score will help you to help an executive make the right decision.
- Score each feature per persona on this scale: 2(LOVE) to -1 (HATE). This will leave you will each feature having a weighted priority/score:
- 2 = persona will love this feature.
- 1 = sure, it’s fine, expected.
- 0 = doesn’t affect the persona.
- -1 = persona will hate this.
- In the end, the persona that generates the most revenue is the most important in the vast majority of cases. (rule of thumb). Pet features fall to the bottom like rocks. No more flashing widgets that spin! Remember a pile of features, a product does not make.
- Now you have the feature priorities, based on persona priorities, based on business or brand goals, which were approved by the executives. They will still try to poop on you, but at least you can tell them how they helped you get to that solution.
- Personas are the characters, now tell the story: From the user’s logical start to their end – regardless of the bonds of our system. This is similar to scenarios and use cases, but focus on end-to-end stories. Not just little snippets of the experience. Users see it as one experience and you need to understand it and plan for it that way too.
- Break story into: Story Title + User’s Steps + Questions at each step + Assumptions about each step + Design Ideas for each step.
- Using Post-It notes, these stories can be mapped visually to explain design thinking.
- Design Maps flow nicely into wireframes. Each step can be considered as it relates to the system being designed.
- Data is great, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. Ad-hoc personas get executives on same page, and help us design a story of the experience. This story crosses functional areas, product descriptions, politics, etc. Personas get you out of your own heads, talking to each other.