Provisional Personas: The Black Sheep of the Persona Family

Personalsby Heather Searl

In the last few years, it seems that personas have gotten a bad rap. And in some UX circles, mentioning a provisional persona might get bring you some serious grief.

Provisional personas (AKA ad-hoc personas, or proto-personas) sound like a recipe for disaster. They are based on little or no research, but rely on intuition and company beliefs—everything that can lead to a pointless persona. Many user experience professionals hate even the thought of them.

And yet – when done and used properly – they can serve a purpose.

The key word in that last sentence is “properly”.

When Provisional Personas are Appropriate

User experience personas are a focus tool. They are used to develop solutions and workflows that meet the needs of real people while weeding out ideas that sound great but don’t serve any real purpose for the end user.

Provisional personas are useful when (and possibly only when) there are many differing views and a lot of dissent about who the end user is – and no budget for research.

Let me make that clear. They are not a replacement for well researched, properly built personas, and should only be used when discussions keep coming to a halt because people can’t agree on who the target users are and what their goals and work flows are.

In those cases, provisional personas can serve a purpose and are legitimately used two ways:

  • To build consensus about the types of people and behaviours you THINK exist, so you can figure out where to focus your user research
  • To drive consensus and focus the entire team on one or more user types when there is a lot of dissent about the user and there isn’t time or money to do the research required to create real personas. (And if you still can’t get to consensus someone has to say, “Tough noogies, these personas represent the people we want to design for, so live with it,”).

Provisional personas should never be given the same weight as a well researched persona. It should be clear to everyone on the team that the persona is only a best guess scenario intended to create some focus for the team.

Creating Provisional Personas

Creating provisional personas shouldn’t be an intensive drawn out task. You’ll quickly reach the end of what you know (and what you think you know) and continuing to guess and debate after that won’t get you any closer to the truth.

1. To start, gather any information you have about your target audience.
2. Put together a small team of open-minded people who understand and represent the differing views that exist about the end user.

    • This may be second-hand research, out of date research, marketing research that doesn’t directly address design issues, anecdotal information etc.

3. Share all of the existing information with the team
4. Get the team together and determine the key things you need to understand about your target audience to make good design decisions
5. Brainstorm the personas and their approach to the issues you want to further understand.
6. Base this brainstorming on the information at hand and your own intuition. In your brainstorming include:

    • The user’s goals for the products
    • How the user accomplishes the work now
    • The user’s frustrations with existing products and workflows
    • The environment the product will be used in

7. Don’t overdo provisional persona detail.

    • They don’t need a cat, three kids and a poor golf swing to be effective.
    • Stick to your best guess at the things that are relevant to the project at hand
    • If there is a lot of uncertainty about an area, make a best guess and move on
    • Feel free to make it clear that this is a best guess right in the persona

8. Stick to the most important types of users

    • Don’t create an elaborate suite of personas that cover every possibility
    • That will leave you no better off when you start design discussions than you would be without the personas

9. Differentiate provisional personas from well researched personas in your organization in some way

    • This could be done by using a caricature in place of a photo or using a clichéd name

10. Test the personas by showing them to people and getting feedback. Ask questions like:

    • Does this feel like users you’ve encountered for this product?
    •  Is anything unbelievable in the persona?
    • Do the attitudes, goals and workflows described seem likely?

The provisional personas should seem real and make sense to people. It shouldn’t come off as a total caricature with a perfect life or insurmountable problems.  If the personas feel this way to some of your reviewers, regroup and figure out why.

Using Provisional Personas

Provisional personas should be used with a grain of salt. Make sure the entire team is aware that the persona is not built on solid data.

If something isn’t making sense as you get further into the design go back and question the assumptions.

But at the same time, don’t throw out the persona when someone doesn’t like it. It’s the best guess you have at who your target user is, and as such will help you stay focused on a cohesive design.

Heather

Tweet this: Provisional Personas: The Black Sheep of the Persona Family http://wp.me/pXBON-4bM #prodmgmt #ux @onpm

Photo courtesy of Gary Barber via Flickr.

heathersearl-newHeather is a user experience consultant and freelance writer who believes in doing everything from a user-centric point of view. She has 20+ years of experience in high tech and is well-versed in helping product management and development teams get to know their customers, understand usability issues and turn these insights into design innovations.

Heather can be reached at www.commconsulting.com or on Twitter as HeatherSearl.

 

What is The Most Important Thing Product Managers Should be Doing?

by Saeed Khan

The-Most-Importat-ThingI want to run a little experiment.

As Product Managers, often what we SHOULD be doing and what we ACTUALLY do are quite different.

This can be caused by:

  • the “the tyranny of the urgent” – being pulled into tasks to address immediate needs at the expense of longer term objectives,
  • or (unfortunately) being “gap-filler” – doing what needs to be done because no one else will or can do those things.

I want to get your input on this topic. Please fill out the form below.  I will collect and organize the results and share in an upcoming blog post with all of you.

Please answer the following….

1. What is the most important thing you SHOULD be doing in your job that you DON'T get done because of other tasks/priorities?

2. What activity (that you regularly have to do, but would rather not be doing) prevents you from doing the most important thing from Q1?

3. In an ideal world, who should really be doing the task you described in Q2?

4. How many people are there in your company?
 1-100 101-250 251-500 501+

Your FIRST name (optional) - used only to reference your answers in the followup blog post

Thanks. As mentioned above, I’ll summarize the results in a future post.

Saeed

Tweet this: What is the most important thing Product Managers should be doing? http://wp.me/pXBON-4bw #prodmgmt

About the Author

Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.

The ice-bucket challenge — a big lost opportunity

By Saeed Khan

ice-bucket-challengeUnless you’ve been out at sea or in an isolated mountain cabin this summer, you’ve probably heard of the so-called “ice-bucket challenge“.  It involves pouring a bucket of ice-water over one’s head to raise awareness of (and to avoid donating to a charity for) a certain debilitating disease. (This is important).

While the charity has seen a surge in donations this summer, there are lessons that can be learned from this fad that can be applied to any other charities looking to raise funds in a similar way. Think of it as a strategic product marketing exercise applied to a charity product. But first, some background for those who are not up on the challenge.

Who’s participating in the challenge?

As part of the challenge, one can also call out other people and challenge them to pour ice-water over their heads. They have 24 hours to accept the challenge and comply, or donate money to charity. i.e. get soaked OR donate. Powered by social media, the ice-bucket challenge has quickly spread via participation from many famous people, including:

So from a social media perspective, it’s been a huge success. And donations are way up this year over last year.

Is it raising awareness?

But the question really is whether the campaign is achieving it’s goals of raising awareness.  In superficial terms, the answer is yes, but in real terms the answer is clearly no.  Try to answer the following questions and see how many you get right. (answers at the bottom of the post)

  1. What does ALS stand for?
  2. What is the disease also known as?
  3. How does the disease impact the human body?
  4. What causes the disease?
  5. How can it be treated?
  6. If you wanted to donate online, what domain would you go to?

The answers are at the bottom of the post. How many did you get right? Use the Poll below to tell us – be honest! :-)

How the campaign could have been improved

There are many reasons this campaign has problems and is a huge lost opportunity. The following are ways that it could have been much better. These lessons can also be applied to other potential viral campaigns.

1. Integrate education into the campaign

How many of the questions above do you think any of the celebrities could have answered? I think very few. You can’t raise awareness about something if people don’t know what it is.

I had to research those questions and answers. Granted, it didn’t take me a long time — a quick read of the Wikipedia page on ALS and a couple of pages on the ALS website itself — but why didn’t the campaign, as popular as it is, help me understand any of that?

A simple change — have people recite at least 1 fact about ALS (from a list provided by the ALS society) in their videos — would have reaped huge awareness benefits.

2. Promote participation not performance

There are literally thousands of videos on the web of people “taking the challenge”, and most of them look more like self-promotion videos than awareness raising videos. Here’s one of the worst offenders – Martha Stewart. Watch the video.

  • She never mentions ALS
  • She never mentions donating money to the ALS Association
  • She says she’s about to get her hair done, so “what the heck?” – how convenient
  • She actually only pours ice (not ice-water) over hear head
  • She challenges others to do the same — i.e. pour ice on their heads – duh!
  • She has an assistant ready to pluck errant ice cubes from her clothes

It’s hard to imagine if Martha Stewart even knew why she was doing the challenge; aside from some kind of egotistical self-promotion — which clearly is the reason a lot of people are doing the challenge, celebrities or otherwise.

Instead of a bucket of ice-water over their heads, why not find a constructive activity that people could perform and ask them to do that and share that video?

BTW, just to be balanced, here’s probably one of the better celebrity videos. Benedict Cumberbatch takes a more thoughtful (and comedic) approach to this, much more so than most other people.

3. Encourage ongoing activism

The ice-bucket challenge is the flavour of the month, or perhaps the fad of the summer (in the northern hemisphere), but then what? The surge in donations is good, but it’s a one time bump. What will the ALS Association do next year to sustain this surge?

Additionally, are they playing a zero-sum game with charitable donations? Is the money that’s coming to them taking money away that would have been donated to other charities? Is this the beginning of charity challenge warfare?

Instead of a hundred dollar donation, why not have a small (e.g. $10) monthly donation commitment? That’s much more convenient for a lot of people, and in the long run would probably deliver more money to the charity. How about getting people to actively participate in some local efforts to help those with ALS?

Oh yeah, and how about YouTube donating EVERY cent they earn from the ads running on all these videos celebrities have posted to the cause? e.g. Bill Gates video alone is about 16,000,000 views at time of writing. There must be at least 100,00,000 views across all of these videos and at an ad rate of $5 per thousand views (less than the $7, that’s $7.60 stated in this article), that’s $500,000 in revenue for YouTube, which could potentially be donated.

As an aside, I doubt it will be announced publicly, but when the donations to ALS next year are much lower than this year (unless a new “ice-bucket challenge” is successful), what will the ALS foundation do?

They’ve missed an opportunity here to really make a change in public awareness and participation. Let’s hope other groups learn from this and don’t make the same mistakes.

Saeed

Tweet this: The ice-bucket challenge — a big lost opportunity http://wp.me/pXBON-4aH  #icebucketchallenge #prodmktg #prodmgmt

Answers to questions:

  1. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  2. Lou Gehrig’s disease
  3. It affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. When motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
  4. Cause unknown though research is progressing
  5. No current treatments, but some drugs are emerging that may help slow progress of the disease
  6. http://www.alsa.org

About the Author

Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.

Rules for customer visits #2 – Moderation is key

by Saeed Khan

While understanding things like “a day in the life” of your users can be very useful, most people have better things to do than recount the minutia of their job duties to you.

If you can’t get everything you need in one visit, try to get commitment for a follow up call or other conversation to gather additional information, but don’t push too hard if they aren’t open to it; you may alienate them.


customer_visit_rule_2a_lion_sleeping

Do you have any rules you want to share?

Tweet this: Rules for Customer Visits #2 – Moderation is key  http://wp.me/pXBON-4aR #prodmgmt #research

 

Meeting Product Goals is Pure Luck

By John Mansour

fourleafcloverUnless your sales team is given quotas for each product, there’s no conceivable plan product managers can execute to meet revenue goals for their products. When they do meet their goals, it’s pure luck. There’s a better approach that doesn’t rely on luck and is more conducive to the success of the organization.

Why do organizations set revenue targets for each product? The theory makes perfect sense. If every product hits its revenue goal, the company will likely hit its revenue goal. But the execution couldn’t be further from reality. Sales people sell what they get paid to sell. All things being equal, they’ll sell what customers are asking for and look for opportunities to upsell or cross sell other products and services.

The Downside of Product-Centric Goals

So when product managers are given product revenue goals, there’s no possible way they can translate those goals into sales execution plans if sales goals aren’t product specific. The negative ripple effect just adds insult to injury.

Sales Confusion

It forces every product manager to lobby the sales force and convince them one product is more beneficial to sell over the others. It’s confusing to the sales force at best.

Buyer Confusion

Imagine how it comes across to your prospective customers – selling what’s important to you instead of selling what’s important to them. It hurts the credibility of your organization.

The other part of establishing product revenue goals that makes even less sense is that no one is considering how your target customers view your organization. How would they position your organization to themselves in a way that offers maximum value relative to their goals?

Don’t Rely on Luck

B2B organizations that consistently meet their revenue targets don’t set revenue goals for each product. They set revenue goals for each target market segment so all product managers have the same incentive – to create product and service solutions that give sales people and the organization a distinct advantage in key market segments.

Benefits of Setting Market Goals Instead of Product Goals

There are a number of benefits to thinking about markets and market goals:

  • Product planning priorities are much easier to establish because the primary focus in on removing the biggest obstacles your target customers are facing. Product priorities follow accordingly to create the solution.
  • Marketing messages are more effective because they’re relevant to the industry and operational issues in each market segment.
  • The sales force is pulled into more situations where you have a distinct advantage and your messaging speaks to decision makers, not users.

A market segment approach to setting sales goals doesn’t preclude the sales force from selling outside those segments. It just gives them more incentive to spend time selling to organizations in those market segments where you have an advantage.

Market segmentation makes it easier for your organization to meet its goals. Vertical marketing (by segment) and horizontal product management (cross-industry solutions) force product teams, marketing and sales to see your organization through the eyes of your target-customer organizations first. And when everyone is focused on helping those target customers meet their goals first and foremost, your goals are much easier to reach.

John

Tweet this: Meeting product goals is pure luck! #prodmgmt #prodmktg #sales  http://wp.me/pXBON-48c 

About the author

John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, a services company focusing on product portfolio management.