Personas were a hot method in the early 2000’s. The big idea: trying to build a product for a bunch of bullet points is hard (exurban women, ages 27-46, 80% with at least some college education, etc.) But building a product for a person makes it much easier to make decisions (we’re building this for Janette, who is trying to get back into the job market after taking time off for family, and she needs to figure out how to make herself relevant again, knowing a ton has changed but that she has some great skills…)
Personas tap into our natural interest in people and stories. They keep us from thinking we have the same concept of who our user or customer is, even if we actually are pretty far apart. It’s not just a common language (though that’s part of it). Janette is Janette. She doesn’t need one thing today and something else tomorrow.
In the 2000s, people gathered data and created personas. But…the personas failed as often as they helped.
I wanted to know why. My conclusion was that if some set of people has entrenched ideas about what they want to do, data doesn’t matter. There was no data telling Jeff Bezos that selling books online was a good idea. And he wouldn’t have cared about all the data that would have said it was a ridiculous idea. He had an idea to solve a particular problem for a particular set of people in a particular way. He knew there was value in his idea. Same thing happens all the time in every organization (even if they turn out to be less right than Jeff did.)
Also, it turns out that demographic and psychographic details aren’t that helpful when you are trying to create something. Great. She’s 27-46. So the button should be blue?
Instead, you want to know the wants and needs of the people you want to reach. You want to be thinking like them, not just about them.
So I developed a method I originally called Ad Hoc Personas. Today, I call them Alignment Personas, and I’ve developed an Alignment Persona workshop. instead of getting a bunch of data first, let’s get the basics organized and articulated first: What problem are you trying to solve in what unique way for what set of people? This information resides in the brains of the key stakeholders (and executives!) in your company and on your project. Typically, this information is called ‘assumptions’ and treated as dangerous.
I don’t think these ‘assumptions’ are dangerous. I think they express the DNA of your company and product. Ignoring them because they don’t have data behind them is far more dangerous than getting them out on the table and into the light. The only assumptions that can hurt your product are the ones you don’t know about.
Alignment Personas are the result of getting assumptions out into the light, organized, and prioritized based on business goals.
Alignment Personas keep your team from thinking they are all talking about the same people and problems, when really they aren’t.
They enable important people to focus on business goals and user goals at the same time.
They move your team from thinking about users—to thinking like users.
They are an integral part of Agile and Design Thinking.
Alignment Personas are fast, effective, and likely to work. And they leave plenty of room for data: alignment personas = hypotheses: “I think these are the people we can reach, and the problems we can solve for them.” Any 7th grade science teacher will tell you not do to research without a hypothesis.
Now when you get the data, you have hypotheses to apply it to. And those hypotheses are all stated in a common language — everyone knows who Janette is. If it turns out Janette doesn’t exist in the data, everyone knows what that means.
The Alignment Persona workshop takes 2 mornings and 4 follow-up meetings. It’s an easy-to-follow process that I’ve developed over 20 years. The book will be available soon.
If you want to try the Alignment Persona methodology before the book is available, contact me.
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