Identify and invite the right participants

The alignment that comes from alignment personas is a result of collaboration during the workshop. As a rule of thumb, invite as many of the project team as possible, but cap the workshop at 12-15 participants to keep it manageable.

Invite representatives from the following disciplines:

  • Product managers
  • Development
  • User Experience
  • Test
  • Stakeholders, including business owners, project managers, solution managers

Be strategic in your invitations.

If there are people who you think might be highly resistant to using personas, make sure you invite them to participate. It’s much easier to convert people through participation in a workshop than it is to try to convince them to use personas that have already been created. Resistance often comes from negative past experiences with personas, which were probably created using a different method and may have been thrown over the wall and therefore not as effective as the personas you will be creating. Participating in the persona workshop helps resistant team members understand the value of the collaborative process and ensures that their voices are heard in the right ways at the right times.

Include a high level stakeholder

It’s important to have decision-makers involved in the alignment persona process. Identify at least one business stakeholder who is one or two levels above yourself to include in the workshop. While this person may not be able to make decisions related to goals and product direction on the spot, you can ask them to be the point person to follow up on these issues and get clarity where it’s needed. It’s sometimes a little difficult to convince a higher level stakeholder to spend the time on the persona workshop if it’s their first time, but they tend to be quick and enthusiastic converts to the process.

Remember to start with a small project

If this is your first time trying the ad hoc persona creation process, or if you think it’s highly unlikely people will be interested or open to personas in your organization, start small. Do the entire process under the radar and see what you come up with. For more details, review Deciding if Alignment Personas are right for you.

The best way to approach execs is with results. If you can do quick and dirty alignment personas and come up with some good changes or ideas based on the personas, lead with the results. The very best way to get uninterested execs interested? Get yourself in the position to show off good results and trace them back to alignment persona work.

“There’s no way we can spare that much time”

You are asking for a considerable amount of time from your workshop participants. It’s ironic, but true, that slowing down and spending the time creating ad hoc personas will actually save time in the long run.

Remember that a lot of resistance comes from having been asked to participate in time-consuming workshops that have had few, if any, positive, actionable, or practical results.

Here are a few things to try if you encounter resistance:

  • Let them know that this is a highly structured workshop, and not a brainstorming or discussion session. There are key deliverables that will be produced as a result. Gather together some of the templates and examples from this site and show your team members what the outcome of the workshop will be. The workshop will cover a lot of ground, from nailing down and articulating business strategy through very specific tactical plans that will be helpful starting immediately after the workshop is finished.
  • Remind business stakeholders that the rest of the team needs clarity in order to move forward, and this is a great way to get and communicate that clarity. The results and positive effects of one ad hoc persona workshop tend to last throughout a project, and even beyond a single project.
  • If all else fails, send a quick email survey to members of your team. Ask a simple question: describe three key users of our product/project/service and why they are key users. Collect the results into a single document (remove names! You are simply trying to make a point, not call anyone out). It’s highly unlikely that the results will be consistent among your team. Show this to stakeholders who are resisting the workshop, let them know that you want to solve this disconnect, and reassure them that the time required for the workshop is actually a small price to pay to get everyone on the same page (and to assure that it’s the correct page!)

An important note on moderating a workshop from within an organization.

A huge part of the success of my own alignment persona workshops has to do with factors that are unique to me:

  •  I’ve written two books on the topic of personas, and can put those books on a slide
  • I’ve worked with very recognizable companies and organizations, and have references from them regarding the success of the personas
  • I’ve done this many times
  • I have a strong personality, can think on my feet very fast, and have found a way to wrangle high level executives that breaks through resistance (sometimes without them noticing.)

I’m not including all of this to brag. I’m including this because running an alignment personas workshop is an intensely political activity. Having the credentials I list above enable me to come into the situation from a position of power. If you are trying to run an alignment persona workshop from within, there’s no way for you to have the kind of power you’ll need to effect big changes in the way the executive team thinks. This isn’t about you and your abilities. This is about politics and organizational structure.

The best and most effective alignment persona workshops include people at various levels of seniority in an organization. The process brings up a lot of difficult questions and can serve to challenge existing assumptions. It’s not always comfortable (or, in some cases, possible) for a lower-level member of a team to comfortably wrangle senior stakeholders. Only you can judge whether you’ll be comfortable being ‘bossy’ enough to keep the workshop on track, and whether the issues that will come up will be too sticky for you to handle.

You can try to ‘swap’ with someone on another team or at another company who also wants to run an alignment workshop (if you can arrange the required non-disclosures, etc.). This has the added benefits of giving you someone to plan with and allowing each of you to attend your own workshops as participants. Even though you may trade with someone who is also junior to many of the workshop’s stakeholders, they will have the advantage of coming in as the official moderator of the workshop, which takes a lot of the political pressure off of you.

Also, I don’t recommend doing your first workshop with super-senior executives or stakeholders. Instead, do a trial run and create alignment personas for a small project, for which business goals can be identified and sign-off at lower level.

If you do find yourself facing a room of senior people, show your belly. In other words, be deferential. Instead of challenging statements, ask for clarifications. Use empathic listening and mirroring techniques, like “So what I hear you saying is….”

If conversations about goals, or other issues that are over your head, get intense or overwhelming, ask the participants to take the conversation offline: “This is clearly a really important issue. Can I ask you guys to set another time to hash this out? When you’ve got it nailed down, I can follow up and make sure that everyone knows what you’ve decided.”

If you get yourself into political trouble, feel free to share the situation and I’ll provide any help I can in the discussion area below.

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