Step 6: Identify Persona Candidates

You now have many easel sheets covered with columns of yellow sticky notes under pink sticky notes with “I want” or “I need” statements on them. You’ve gone from describing users from the participants’ point of view to thinking like the users themselves. This was a big shift.

You have far fewer pink stickies than yellow stickies, but there are many pink stickies. To get to persona candidates, you have to find patterns in the pink sticky notes and group them accordingly.

Transcribe all of the pink sticky notes into a spreadsheet

I’ve been developing this workshop for many years. Experience has shown me that there’s no shortcut to the next step: transcribing all of the pink stickies onto a spreadsheet while all of the participants watch and listen.

In many cases, you will be starting Step 6 on the second day of the workshop. Transcribing while everyone listens gets everyone back into the workshop and on the same page. And, while it can feel like a long and tedious process, transcription only takes around 5-10 minutes.

  • Ask everyone to sit down around the table.
  • Briefly review the steps you’ve completed
  • Project a blank spreadsheet. I recommend using Google sheets.
  • Ask the participants sitting closest to the table to begin reading the pink sticky notes, one at a time.
  • Type each sticky note into the spreadsheet on a new line.


If your product has more than one interface, create more than one spreadsheet.

In Steps 4 and 5, I discussed what to do if your product has more than one interface (e.g., an Administrator interface and an End User interface). My recommendation is to treat these as two separate products for the purposes of creating Alignment Personas.

If you did do yellow and pink stickies for more than one interface during the same workshop, make sure you split them out now. Each interface, and it’s associated pink stickies, should have its own sheet in your spreadsheet.

Ask if anyone is missing

Give participants a chance to add more pink stickies before you move on, and tell them that you can add more lines if they think of more I want / I need statements later. You don’t have to create actual pink sticky notes for these; simply type them into the spreadsheet.  There’s something about seeing the full list of I want /I need statement that triggers new ideas or insights, and that’s great.

Grouping Pink Stickies: The Concierge

For the moderator

You need to get from your long list of individual “I want / I need” statements to groups of related goals. This process isn’t cut and dried; while Step 5 is mentally arduous for everyone, Step 6 can be difficult for you as a moderator. Ultimately, you have to make decisions on how to effectively group the pink sticky notes.

Whenever I go into a workshop, I already have a sense of the user goals that the team should be focusing on. Most products aren’t trying to solve super-technical problems for super-technical people. If they are, then do research before the workshop so that you have a sense of the goals users will bring with them.

Remember that the alignment persona process is about getting back to basics. In the vast majority of workshops, I have a sense of the categories of goals as I’m typing up the pink stickies. It’s usually easy to see that the team needs to focus on goals of:

  • Brand new users
  • New-ish users still familiarizing themselves with the product
  • Returning users who may have set ideas on how to use the product, but who may not know the breadth of options and features available to them
  • Users encountering problems
  • Users with expectations related to familiarity with competitive or alternative products
  • Users who already love your brand, or company, or previous products

Note that these categories have more to do with users’ experience with the product itself, rather than their level of intelligence or experience in the domain. Companies, stakeholders, and product teams get so excited about, and entrenched in, the features they are building, that they often lose sight of these basic milestones for any user of any product.

It may be that the groupings of pink stickies for your product are totally different than these, and that’s fine. The point is that you need to be ready to direct the conversation, because this step is as much art as it is science.

In the talking points, below, I’ve included a few different ways to structure the conversation to help the participants group the pink sticky notes.

Talking points: The concierge

In our last step, we grouped yellow stickies under pink stickies, and went from dozens of yellow stickies to (probably around 50-80) pink stickies. Our next task is to group these pink sticky notes. These groups of related goals will help us create our alignment persona candidates; we will probably have no more than 20 candidates, and eventually we will decide on around 6-12 alignment personas.

In the yellow sticky exercise, we imagined all the people coming into a building that represents our product.

In the pink sticky exercise, we described how those people would describe their reasons for coming into the building, in their own words.

Now let’s imagine we are inside that building. All those people are flowing in, and each has a want or a need that’s on the tip of his or her tongue.

Imagine there’s a concierge sitting at a desk. Every doorway into the building empties into the lobby, where our concierge is sitting. To get past the lobby, and to the elevators, every person who comes in has to talk to the concierge.


The concierge always asks “how can I help you?” and all of the visitors’ answers are in our spreadsheet.

The concierge’s job is to point each person to the particular elevator that will take them to the best floor to address their needs. The concierge has to match the user needs to what she knows is in the building. Her primary job boils down to identifying which ‘group’ any individual belongs to, because she has a limited number of options for places to send people. We’re going to aim for no more than 15 groupings.

Each floor offers something different. We don’t have to determine exactly which features or benefits are on each floor. We just have to ask ourselves “would the concierge send the person with this want and need to the same floor as this other person, or a different floor?”

Any pink sticky can be in more than one group. You might imagine your concierge sending this person to several floors. And that’s fine. There will even be some pink stickies that feel very broad and probably apply to all users. For example, in our Travel Gems example, one of the pink stickies is “I want it to be easy.” Pink stickies this broad should be replaced with more specific wants and needs during Step 5, but they aren’t always, and that’s ok.


The best way to get the hang of this is to try it.

For the moderator

Here’s the example of how we did this exercise at Travel Gems (see Alignment Personas Example Materials)


Every time I do this exercise, I use descriptive words to identify the groupings of pink stickies. I imagine how the concierge might identify the types or groups of people who she sees every day. I ask myself whether she would send these groups of people to the same floor or a different floor. My favorite approach is to use words that end with “-ers” as the “floors” or group names.

When you created the yellow stickies, you asked everyone to be as granular as possible (one person in one situation per sticky note. The pink sticky note was about stepping up a level to identify goals—and there are never as many goals as there are people and situations. Now you are stepping up yet another level to group those goals.

Obviously, this is not a scientific process. And you are going to have to be directive in this exercise, which is difficult the first few times. You have to be very good at thinking on your feet.

Helpful hint: typically, the majority of the pink sticky creation work is done the first day of a two day workshop. Schedule some time to review the pink stickies on your own, or with the close colleagues who are highly involved in the persona effort with you. Do some thinking about the descriptions or “differences that make a difference” that the pink sticky notes suggest. Use your own experience thinking about user goals to help you mentally prepare to wrangle the Concierge/pink sticky grouping exercise the next day.

Re-organizing pink stickies under group names

For the moderator

When you’re finished, give the participants a short break.  While they are gone, copy and paste each group name (or floor number, or whatever sorting method you end up using) so that you can group the pink sticky notes underneath.


Any pink sticky can be in more than one group. You might imagine your concierge sending this person to several floors. And that’s fine. There will even be some pink stickies that feel very broad and probably apply to all users. For example, in our Travel Gems example, one of the pink stickies is “I want it to be easy.” Pink stickies this broad should be replaced with more specific wants and needs during Step 5, but they aren’t always, and that’s ok.

Copy each pink sticky note under every appropriate group name.

The easiest way to do this is sort the spreadsheet several times to sort the pink stickies by group name (in our example, this means sorting by column B, copying and pasting the sorted pink stickies, sorting by column C, copy and paste again, etc.)

step6-Pasted Graphic 8

Review the sorted sticky notes: these are your candidates!

An alignment persona candidate is simply a group name with a list of I want / I need sticky notes listed beneath it. You’ve already done all the hard work you need to create the first set of candidates. Your next step is to make the candidates easy to see and read. When your participants reconvene, you will complete the first review and iteration of the candidates.

When participants return from the break, have the new spreadsheet projected and ready.  Try to arrange the columns so that participants can see all of the group names (though this may not be possible if you have a lot of group names)


Discuss: Are all of these capturing Differences that make a difference?

These our our alignment persona candidates. They are not completed alignment personas; we have more work to do to complete our work. And there are still quite a few of them.

  • Is anyone missing? Can anyone think of a group of people who somehow slipped through the cracks?
  • Do these group descriptions still feel right and good to everyone?
  • Should any of these groups be combined? This can be a particularly important conversation if you have more than 20 or so group names.
  • Are any of these describing ‘groups’ that are actually better seen as common needs of lots of users?  In our Travel Gems example, “I want it to be easy” could easily have made it through the discussion and become its own “Ease-Seekers” group. Ask the participants if group descriptions like these actually make more sense as pink stickies under multiple groups.
  • Should any of these groups be broken into sub-groups?
  • Remember that this isn’t your last opportunity to revise your lists of candidates. The prioritization exercise will help to identify candidates that may not be as helpful as you’d like them to be.

Naming your candidates

Good last names for personas are one (or two) word descriptors for the person represented by each label and stickies. If your group names are short and sweet, they might work fine as is. (Sometimes it’s easiest to start this process on your own and then review with all the participants, rather than trying to do this as a group (but doing it as a group is fine too).

  • Remember that the last names should all start with a different letter, if possible.
  • If it feels right, create first names.
  • First names should start with the same initial as the last names.

How many candidates should there be?

Aim for 8 – 15 candidates (maximum). Typically, most teams end up with between 4-12 final personas, of which 2-4 are prioritized for any given project.

Preserve your hard work

You are turning your attention away from your easel sheets full of pink sticky notes. This is a great moment in the workshop … but make sure you preserve all of the great work on the easel sheets!

After the workshop, I highly recommend transcribing all of the yellow sticky notes onto their own sheet in your spreadsheet document. Best practices for preserving your work and making transcription easy:

  1. Take lots of photos of the big picture. At every step of the workshop. But particularly now, before you move the easel sheets. Take long shots of the entire table or walls.
  2. Take several individual photos of every easel sheet. I usually stand on a chair (not the safest thing to do, so I can’t officially recommend it) so I can take a photo looking down on each easel sheet. Make sure you have at least one photo that is in focus and lets you read each sticky note when you zoom in.
  3. After you take the photos, you can disassemble your easel sheets. I’ve tried keeping the easel sheets with sticky notes intact in the past, thinking that there would be some future need for them, or simply because it was such hard work to create them. I’ve never brought out the originals after any workshop, so I no longer treat them as precious.
  4. To make transcription easy, ask several people to help you remove the sticky notes:
    • Make piles of sticky notes where yellow stickies are stacked underneath their pink sticky note. You can make piles of these pink-and-their-yellows stacks.
    • Save these stacks carefully.
  5. Transcribe using the stacks. You already have all of the pink sticky notes typed into your spreadsheet (and perhaps a few extra pink sticky notes, for which there are no real-world counterparts or yellow sticky notes).
    • Create a copy of the sheet containing the list of pink sticky notes
    •  Find each pink sticky note as you go through the pile
    • Transcribe the yellow sticky notes under their corresponding pink sticky note entry.
  • This will end up being a long sheet. The process will be tedious. But it’s a valuable step. It’s a great opportunity to read through all of the yellow stickies again and the pink sticky categories again with a fresh perspective. You may find new insights that help with your completed personas.
  • When you face (inevitable) questions like these, you’ll able to easily search for related sticky notes in your spreadsheet and thus prove that the process was thorough:
    • “Did you consider the guy who just heard about the app from a friend and downloads it not knowing anything at all about what it does?”
    • “You say you had people think of all the possible users of our new product? How many did they think of?”
    •  “Where did this particular want or need statement come from? Give me some examples of people who would want or need something like this?”
    • There’s really nothing in this whole process more satisfying than whipping out your spreadsheet to respond to these kinds of questions. It’s awesome.


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