Personas in action!

Personas in action!

Personas are a powerful tool to understand the people for whom we are building a project or application.  The more we can understand those we are trying to satisfy the more apt we are to deliver functionality that actually meets their needs.  Combining personas and Agile Story Maps significantly increases our ability to grasp the requirements and needs of complex projects by clarifying the requirements/needs/stories generation process.

How to Use Personas When Generating An Agile Story Map:

  1. Define the personas (or review, if you already have defined personas) that represent the typical types of users for the application you are building or maintaining (See Daily Process Thoughts, August 29, 2013).
  2. Break into teams of 3 – 7 (smaller the better). For example, if you have a group of eight it would be best to split the group into two teams of 4.
  3. Split the personas between the teams that you have.  Each team should start with personas that they understand and are familiar with.  If you have no one in your group that “knows” a specific persona, put it aside and find additional participants that have the knowledge you need.
  4. Personalize each persona by adding names of real people that play that role.  This grounds the persona in the behaviors of real people that someone in the group knows. Someone can say. “I know Jill, and she needs . . .” If the team can’t identify a real person that to attach to the persona they should put the persona aside. Try to add several names to each persona to help keep a broad perspective. (Time box activities 3 and 4 to a total of 5 – 10 minutes)
  5. As a team identify the application needs for the personas you are working with by asking the participants to answer the following set of questions for their personas. Keep going until they can think of nothing else to add.
    >>  What would persona do first when using this application?
    >>  What would they do next?
    Write each need on a 3×5 card or medium sized sticky note.
    (Time box this activity to 10 – 20 minutes.
  6. Arrange the needs into a workflow or timeline of user activities on a wall, a table or floor.
  7. Review each user need, create user tasks and details about those tasks. These will eventually become user stories. Write those on cards too, and stack them vertically under the corresponding user activity.
    (Time Box this activity to 10 – 20 minutes.)

If you are running a session with multiple teams it usually makes sense to rotate a portion of each team (one to two members) and then re-run steps three and five with the new team make-up. This helps ensure completeness.  I generally time box this step to half of the original time in order to reduce the potential for debate paralysis.

After completing this session restate the results of step seven in User Story Format (“As a <persona>, I want to <function> so that I can <business value>.”) and then use the prioritization technique discussed in Daily Process Thoughts, August 27, 2013.

Personas are a great tool to have in your Agile bag of tricks.  A basic person will include a name, a picture, relevant characteristics and business needs.  Even though each persona is a metaphor for a group of users, by attaching a name and a face they are personal enough to help us engage with the persona on a level a little more intimate than we would a user type. Personas are personal, they are memorable and they represent people like us – rather than clinical, generic user types. This personalization makes them useful for driving out requirements, or as a tool to help identify needs and activities to populate our Agile Story Maps. Can you create an Agile Story Map without using personas?  Of course, and in small project and applications, you probably do not need personas. But as the projects and applications increase in business complexity, personas help us to see the big picture.