Personas are useful tools for U.S. work, but too often I hear about teams who have created them but don’t find them to be all that successful. I’m going to discuss some of the common challenges teams run into with personas and how you can address them. The first challenge is simply a general lack of understanding of what personas really are.
Personas are themes found in qualitative data about our users. And like any qualitative data analysis, finding themes of like behaviors and attitudes in people is not really an exact science. And it often results in some gray area. And that’s OK. They’re a best guess of the key user types to focus on and design a best guess based on research and analysis. Researchers and stakeholders who don’t understand this or who aren’t comfortable with relying on generalized themes tend to be skeptical of their validity in this lack of buy in makes them impossible to be successful in this situation. It’s important to take time upfront before even creating personas to help your stakeholders understand what exactly they are and how they can still be helpful to your projects, even though they may not be an exact science. The second challenge is that stakeholders often have inaccurate expectations about how the personas will influence work. Stakeholders often want to get the most bang for their buck. So many times they ask for very broad personas that can cover a large array of products or services.
This can seem like a great idea, but the tradeoff is that the is this broad can only include very high level data, which is great for more general decision making, but they aren’t terribly useful for designing specific features or workflows in specific products. So in the end, these personas are seen as unhelpful. In practice, it’s generally better to create personas with a more targeted scope of focus so that the data collected and the resulting personas can have a more direct influence on the designs you intend to create. With that said, it’s important for any personal project to understand what stakeholders want to achieve with the personas before creating them. So consult with them about their needs and recommend the right tool for the job, then set appropriate expectations regarding how the personas they request will be effectively used. A third common challenge is that team members often have uncertainty about how they can be used on a project. Not everyone is incredibly experienced and using personas, so rather than revealing them as posters or pieces of artwork, help your colleagues to understand the benefits of personas. Give your stakeholders ideas for how to use the personas in a more practical sense. And lastly, I see too often where researchers go away and they create personas in private and then deliver them to people to use personas delivered this way are rarely effective. People are always apt to be skeptical of something if they don’t know where it came from or how it was created.
For this reason, stakeholders should always be involved in the creation process so that they can see that research was done and so that they can understand how themes were derived. This ensures that end users are more invested in the personas when they’re complete. If you’ve had a failed persona experience at your organization, maybe the reason is due to one of these common challenges, identify where you went wrong and right the ship. If you’re looking to create new personas, use these tips as a checklist and ensure you address these challenges as you go.