Welcome to AlignmentPersonas.com

This site has been a long time in the making, and it’s not done. I’ve been inventing and honing the Alignment Personas (previously called Ad Hoc Personas or Assumption Personas) method and workshop for many years, and I’ve always looked forward to sharing it with the user experience community. When it is done, alignmentpersonas.com will be a free resource containing all the information and instructions you need to conduct your own Alignment Personas Workshop. Over time, I will a add a downloadable e-book version of this content, and supplemental materials to help you run your own workshops, which you will be able to purchase.

Why am I giving this process away? Primarily because I love personas (and have since Alan Cooper introduced the into the user experience field in 1999), and because I’m proud of the work I’ve done to create the alignment personas methodology. I’m creating this website (as opposed to launching an e-book on its own) because I want to create a place for conversations, questions, answers, and case studies about personas, with a particular focus on personas as tools to align everyone in an organization around both business goals and user centrism.

As I write this at the end of  February 2018, I have just launched the first draft of this site, which includes:

  • Introductory materials to help you decide if Alignment Personas are right for you and your team
  • Steps 0 – 7 (of a total of 8) of the Alignment Persona creation and prioritization process, including screenshots of my own workshop slides and talking points
  • Examples from a previous alignment personas project.
  • Comment areas on every page, so that you can ask any questions and provide feedback as I continue to develop the site.

Coming soon:

  • Edited versions of all the current content. You’re sure to find typos and other mistakes in this early edition.
  • More opportunities for you to add your own content and experiences, including a case studies section.
  • E-book and audio book versions to download
  • Toolkits you can purchase to make it easy to prepare for and run your own workshops
  • More content around the history of personas, the evolution of the Alignment Personas methodology, my own case studies, and more.

My Journey from Personas to Alignment Personas

In 1999, my then-boss gave me a copy of Alan Cooper’s 1999 book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Chapters 9, 10 and 11 of that book introduce the idea of personas into the world of business and user experience design, and the changed my professional world. I was fascinated and totally convinced that Cooper was (and is) a genius. His idea was so basic and obvious once he said it, which is the hallmark of great user experience work (we know we’ve done our jobs well if it seems like the solution was obvious from the beginning.)

It turns out that the devil is in the details when it comes to personas. Through years of research and experience with personas, I learned a lot. I co-authored two books with John Pruitt: The Persona Lifecycle (2005) and The Essential Persona Lifecycle (2010).  These books present a start-to-finish Lifecycle model for the entire process of creating and using personas:

  • Family Planning: Planning for your persona effort by identifying persona effort goals and thinking about the challenges you’ll face
  • Conception and Gestation: creating data-driven personas
  • Birth and Maturation: Introducing the personas into your organization in ways that promote interest in, and adoption of, the personas as tools
  • Adulthood: Practical methods for using personas throughout any design and development process
  • Lifetime Achievement and Retirement: measuring the effectiveness of the persona effort and managing the replacement of personas when you embark on a new project.

After all these years, I’m still a huge proponent of lifecycle-based thinking when it comes to persona efforts. You’ll see elements of all of the life stages of personas in this site. However, I have also come to disagree with one major element of our books: I no longer think creating personas using hard data is a good idea.

The Origins of Alignment Personas

Obviously, I have a lot to say on the topic of Alignment Personas. But here’s the nutshell version:

  • Data-driven personas seem like a great idea, and sometimes they work. But all too often, they fail, and leave persona practitioners mystified as to what went wrong and leaving a very bad impression about personas in organizations.
  • There’s a much bigger problem than lack of data in most organizations: lack of clarity of focus from the top down.
  • I became fascinated with what I call Corporate Underpants: the fact that, all too often, organizational issues end up showing through on the user experience (much like visible underwear lines can show up through even the most fancy outfits).
  • I believe the impact of key stakeholder wishy-washiness on user experience is enormous.
  • I also believe that it’s hard to be a key stakeholder, and that one of our primary jobs as user experience professionals is to help key stakeholders get to the clarity and focus they need to help the rest of us do our best work.
  • I also also believe that personas are incredible tools.

Many years ago, I put all of these beliefs together, and, as user experience professionals have for decades, I started swimming upstream. I started creating ‘assumption-based’ personas quickly and collaboratively with project teams. One fateful day, John and I had lunch with Don Norman (at a Nielsen/Norman Group conference, where we were teaching our Persona Lifecycle methodology). Subsequently, he published his 2004 article Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus, coining the term Ad Hoc Personas.

I’ve used the term Ad Hoc personas to describe the method I’ve developed for many years. Recently (very recently), I decided to re-brand my method as Alignment Personas, to reflect the results. Assumption-based personas, Ad Hoc Personas, and Alignment Personas are the same, but using the words “assumption” or “ad hoc” undercuts the value of the results.

Alignment Personas are not the same as traditional personas

Traditionally, personas are created from the bottom-up: practitioners collect data, analyze it to identify patterns, create personas out of those patterns, and present the final personas to stakeholders. Like Alignment personas, they may be prioritized for particular projects. A quick search for personas illustrates the wide variety in personas, from the data and information they include to the format in which they are presented to the ways in which they are used to help design and develop products.

Alignment personas are created in a highly-structured, collaborative workshop with stakeholders. There are unique elements of the Alignment Persona methodology that distinguishes it from traditional personas:

  •  Measurable, prioritized business goals are required.
  • The workshop forces everyone to share their embedded knowledge of, assumptions about, and internalized visions of users.
  • The workshop is built around the idea that the only assumptions about your users that can truly hurt your project are the ones you don’t know about (and deal with) in advance.
  • The workshop transitions everyone from thinking about users to thinking like users.
  • Data is still involved in alignment persona creation (if it’s needed). But data is collected only after there are clear hypotheses about who the users are, and what they want and need. Alignment personas are these hypotheses.
  • Because key stakeholders are the ones to create the measurable business goals, and because they are involved in creating the alignment personas and prioritizing them based on those goals, stakeholders buy into adopting and using the personas, with positive results that often last for years.
  • Alignment persona deliverables have a recommended template and should include specific types of information.

Creating Alignment Personas is tricky

As you’ll see, every step of the workshop seems relatively easy. But creating alignment personas isn’t actually an easy process. As the facilitator, you are using seemingly easy steps to force deep, politically-charged discussions and decision-making. There’s a delicate, yet stern, art to wrangling key stakeholders and executives.

Creating alignment personas from within an organization can be exceedingly tricky; in some cases, it’s impossible. If your job sits several levels below the decision-makers you need to involve, you may not be able to keep the process on-track without risking your professional life. So proceed thoughtfully and with caution. Pay attention to my suggestions about handling sensitive, politically-charged aspects of the workshop and subsequent usage of the alignment personas.

What I ask of you, dear reader.

Add to the conversation and the method.

  • Try it out!
  • Leave comments and questions and I’ll answer them.
  • Leave your own case studies and examples
  • Sign up to get notified when I update this site.

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One response on “Homepage

  1. Lorie Whitker

    Thanks so much for posting this video! I’m currently trying to figure out how to provide a persona template to the BA/PM group at my company (per boss (Dir of UX) request). I’m struggling with reconciling giving them the power to create personas without facilitating their creation. This video really helped me understand that ad hoc personas are really what need to be created with these product groups instead of giving them the template to do their own. Now, to convince my boss!