Step 1: Intro & Orientation

It’s important to start your workshop with an overview presentation. This helps to establish a common language and align expectations.

Skipping the overview presentation doesn’t save time. It answers questions that you have to answer if you want to succeed.

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As workshop facilitator, brace yourself to be nice! There are always a few challenging people and moments during persona workshops. Before you start, take a deep breath and take your ‘nice tone’ up a few notches. I try to be energetic, positive, and generous with compliments during persona workshops. And that’s not always easy.

Welcome everyone to the workshop and thank them for coming and being so generous with their time.

I often create a slide listing the people in attendance and their titles. Have everyone introduce themselves. It’s always worth the time it takes, even if everyone already knows each other. If everyone knows each other, focus on the questions to cover :

Prepare a slide with a few basic questions to answer through the introduction. For example:

  • Your name and role or title
  • Have you ever participated in a persona project before?
  • What are you most interested in or excited about when it comes to this persona work?

No phones, no computers please.

Attention and participation are critical. The whole point of the workshop is to ‘squeeze all the juicy goodness’ out of the brains of the participants. Ask that everyone put aside their phones and computers. Tell them that there will be regular breaks to check in with work.. Reassure them you will respect their time by making use of every moment they are putting aside for this workshop.

Why we’re here today

Together, we are going to create Alignment Personas. This is a collaborative process and with well-defined steps.

If your company or group has tried personas in the past, let them know that this is new process with a new purpose.

There are countless examples of failed persona efforts. This happens for some very predictable reasons. Previous personas may have left a bad impression, but these personas will be different.  Ask participants to keep an open mind.

If your company has never tried personas, it’s worth asking the participants what they already know about personas. Some may have used them (for better or worse) in a previous company or role. Others may have heard about and formed impressions about the value of personas. Welcome a short discussion to get these impressions out on the table.  It’s good to identify obstacles you’re facing as you embark on the workshop.

Workshop Overview: The Short Version

We are going to use the workshop to transition the whole team from thinking about users to thinking like users. Here’s an overview of the workshop, and the reasoning and value behind each of the steps:

An alignment persona workshop gets the entire team onto the same page, and ensures that page is customer-focused and business-savvy. We start by articulating clear, measurable business goals.

Once we have the business goals clarified, we’re going to get our assumptions our users out where we can see them! We have a lot of embedded knowledge about what we’re trying to create, and why we’re trying to create it, on our team. But we’re not always aligned in our thinking, and that gets in our way.

We’ll do several exercises with sticky notes to:

  • Write down all the users we can think of for our product or service or project
  • Cluster them according to user goals, because user goals are the key drivers of most of what users tend to do
  • Create quick candidate personas. These will serve as hypotheses to drive our data collection and analysis

After we agree on our personas, we’ll prioritize them according to the business goals for the project. This will ensure shared focus on the same key users, and their goals, as we start to design our product or service. This shared focus is valuable; it means that we’ll all be pulling in the same direction, even when we start moving  fast.

Once we have our prioritized personas, we can use them to take a fresh look at our own products, and our competitors’, through users’ eyes. During development, we can use the prioritized personas to help us triage feature ideas.

And, because we will build the personas around user goals, they are likely to be helpful in future releases of our product or service. When we’re done with this project, we can look back at the personas and:

  • assess how well we did (or didn’t) meet their needs
  • gather data from real users who are using our product
  • revisit the persona priorities based on evolving business goals
  • start work on our next release or project.

Workshop Overview: The Details

First things first: what are personas?

Even if some (or all) of your participants already know what personas are, it’s important to create a new, shared definition of alignment personas. The alignment persona creation process is about getting hidden thoughts and assumptions out on the table and aligned. Hidden thoughts and assumptions hide in everyday language.  Establishing a refreshed vocabulary now sets the stage for everything you will do during the workshop, and everything you hope to accomplish with your Alignment Personas project.

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Personas are built on the fundamental idea that people who design and Personas were introduced into the world of User Experience (and business) by Alan Cooper in his 1999 book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. In his book, Cooper argued that software engineers end up designing user interfaces by default, and the resulting products are hard to use. He introduced personas in chapters 9, 10, and 11 of this landmark book.

  • The idea behind personas has been around for decades. Marketing has employed ‘target customer characterizations’ or ‘customer archetypes’ for years. These are similar to personas.
  • References to personas in product design exist as far back as the 1950s.

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Alignment Personas

Alignment Personas result in deliverables that look like data-driven personas. But Alignment Personas are created using a new process, by a group of key stakeholders, for a different purpose than data-driven personas.

The Alignment Personas method, and today’s workshop, were created by an expert in personas. Tamara Adlin is the co-author of two books on creating and using personas, and a website ‘book’ about Alignment Personas. She invented the process based on her deep understanding of personas, and 19 years of experience of working with personas in the real world. Alignment Personas were borne out of the realization that many traditional, data-driven persona efforts were failing, often because they weren’t enjoying the stakeholder buy-in they needed. They also weren’t being linked to business goals.

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Alignment Personas are created collaboratively by key project stakeholders–the people we have gathered in this room today.  Because you are involved, this is a top-down process. We are still going to use data to create our final alignment personas; we’re just not going to start with data.

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A great way to think about this process: we are going to get embedded knowledge and strategic thinking out into the light where we can see it. We’re going to have a chance to make sure that all of that thinking is aligned, and to translate it into candidate personas that we can validate with data. We will be able to collect any data we need efficiently because the persona candidates we create through our alignment persona workshop will form detailed hypotheses that we can test.

When we finish this process, we will have a set of personas that:

  •  We all feel comfortable with
  • Can be the basis of a new shared language throughout our organization
  • Are prioritized according to our business goals
  • Reflect our business goals, so will be relevant beyond the current project
  • Can be reprioritized if our business goals shift, and/or for future projects
  • Have been validated with data

Why Alignment Personas are important for [our company/our project]

Before diving into the body of the workshop, talk for a few minutes about the reasons you feel Alignment Personas are important for your company, department, and project. You can collect these from your ______.

If you feel it’s appropriate, invite your participants to talk about the problems or challenges they hope that the Alignment Personas workshop and deliverables might address. If you decide to do this, include a blank slide and take notes during this discussion right on the slide.  Alternatively, you can create a copy of the persona project goals worksheet and collect more details from the assembled team. Timebox the conversation. If participants (or some subset of participants) want to continue the conversation, schedule a separate meeting to do so and let everyone know you will share the results with everyone.

(missing slide)

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A preview of what we’re working towards

You may have seen a variety of persona documents in the past. Alignment Personas are created using a template that contains specific types of information.  Each element of an alignment persona description is there for a purpose. Giving participants a preview of the personal template gives everyone a sense of purpose and confidence that every step of the process serves a purpose, and will result in something useful.

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None of the persona details in the slide above (except for the weighted score / priority) will not change very much over time.

Once the personas are completed, we will be able to add additional, project-specific elements (below), which usually change more quickly.

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The plan for our workshop

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Long story short, you are going to use the workshop to transition the whole team from thinking about users to thinking like users.

Here’s an overview of the workshop, and the reasoning and value behind each of the steps:

An alignment persona workshop gets the entire team onto the same page, and ensures that the page we’re all on is customer-focused and business-savvy. We start by articulating clear, measurable business goals, which are created by business stakeholders  (note that the people in your workshop may or may not be responsible for crafting and authorizing business goals. No  matter who creates the goals, it the workshop participants’ job to write them down and push back if they aren’t measurable.)

Once we have the business goals clarified, we’re going to move on to get all of our assumptions about who our users are out on the table, where we can see them! We have a lot of embedded knowledge about what we’re trying to create, and why we’re trying to create it, on our team. But we’re not always aligned in our thinking, and that gets in our way.

We’ll do several exercises with sticky notes to:

  • Write down all the users we can think of for our product or service or project
  • Cluster them according to user goals, because user goals are the key drivers of most of what users tend to do
  • Create quick Alignment Persona candidates that we can use as hypotheses to drive our data collection and analysis

After we agree on our personas, we’ll prioritize them according to the business goals for the project. This way, we’ll ensure that we’re all focusing on the same key users, and their goals, as we start to design our product or service. This shared focus is incredibly valuable…it means that we’ll all be pulling in the same direction, even when we start moving incredibly fast.

Once we have our prioritized personas, there are lots of ways we can use them. They will be the stars of our use cases and scenarios. We can use them to take a fresh look at our own products, and our competitors’, through users’ eyes. When we get further along in the development process and may have to triage features or functionality, we can use the prioritized personas to help us assess which items should survive the triage, and which might be less critical to our users and to the business.

And, because the personas are built around user goals, they are likely to be helpful in future releases of our product or service. When we’re done with this project, we can look back at the personas, assess how well we did (or didn’t) meet their needs, do some additional data gathering from real users who are using our product, revisit the persona priorities based on evolving business goals, and start work on our next release or project.

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The workshop is highly scripted. The amount of time each step takes will depend on the experience and the complexities you encounter during the steps. Adjust the amount of time you allot for each step accordingly.

In Step 0: Preparing for the workshop, I recommend that you schedule two, four-hour sessions on consecutive mornings. Typically, I use the initial workshop for Steps 1-7, reserving a few minutes at the end to have a short discussion about the prioritization process. You can adjust the timeline accordingly.

I typically do not put breaks into the timeline slide. Instead, I take them when it feels appropriate. 

Any questions before we get started?

Stop frequently to invite questions or comments throughout the workshop. If questions require detailed responses, take them offline. Participants who aren’t thrilled about the workshop will ask questions to derail you or the process. They are welcome to do so, but it’s up to you to manage the time they take up.

If questions are taking up too much time, create a parking lot for questions. Put up a sheet of easel paper and create sections for each step of the workshop. Invite people with questions to write them down on sticky notes (of a different color than you plan to use for elements of the workshop). Asking participants to write down questions and post them in the parking lot. This serves two purposes: it requires that participants distill questions down into short versions, and it ensures participants with questions feel ‘heard.’

At the end of the workshop, make sure you let everyone know how you plan to address the questions. Ask that anyone who feels their question has already been answered remove their sticky note from the parking lot. Send an email following the workshop with answers to all the questions that remained in the parking lot.

If you have tricky questions you need help answering, add them to the discussion sections on this website. I’ll do my best to help you create effective answers, and/or to drill down to find the ‘real’ issue that may be lurking behind the question.

 

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