5 Steps to Effective Use of Personas

I have just been catching up on some blog reading from some of my favourite Product Management and Development sites.

The Signal vs Noise blog is writen by the Product Development team at 37signals. I really like their Web Based productivity applications, but when I saw that they were not supporters of the use of personas in their Product Development process I was surprised. In fact, they apply their own experience to develop their products.

Now, in their case, they are actually designing applications that help other online product development style people to get their jobs done. So in this special case they may be perfect representations of their primary target market. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

Reading through the comments there seems to be quite a lot of confusion about effective ways to create and use personas, so I am going to share some of the Brainmates methodology for effective persona use.

Step 1 – Market Segmentation

The benefit of having a persona is to create a representation of your target customers. This will not be effective if your market segment is too broad. By pruning down your market into increasingly focused groups, the behaviour of the people in these segments will become more homogeneous. The purpose of the segmentation is to identify a group of customers who have very similar user goals that your product idea is hoping to address.

This may feel like you are limiting your market, but you are actually enhancing your chances for success if you meet the needs of this clearly defined segment.

Step 2 – Fill out the Persona

Although this can be a fun exercise, we are not creating a character in a bestselling mini-series. The persona is DEFINED by the focused market segment that was determined in Step 1.

You may want to fill out a few additional details that provide a little personality to the segmentation information.

Also, determine the specific goal of this person. By defining your persona’s goal, you will better understand what your end product needs to achieve. Without a goal the persona is pointless. This is where many people misuse personas. They end up being a happy face that represents a demographic that cannot actually help during the product design.

Step 3 – User Scenarios (or Stories)

We need to map out situations that we expect the persona to have to go through to achieve their goal.
There may be a number of stand alone or linked user scenarios that describe the customer’s attempts to achieve their goal when interacting with your product. This needs to include more than just the actions that your personas will take when they have access to your product. You should also consider what they should do to get it in the first place, how they buy it or activate it, etc.

Step 4 – Gather the requirements

Now walk the persona through each of the User Scenarios and document all of the things that the customer should be able to do at each step. If possible make this as real as possible. The less imagination and more physical interaction the better.

Step 5 – Write the market requirements

This can be a daunting process, but if you have followed the steps above all the hard work has been. You just need to write it up. But, this is not what this post is about.

As soon as you can, create a prototype and put it in the hands of a customer that matches your target market segment and hence your persona. See if your assumptions are correct.


So IF you are going to create a persona make sure that they:

  • represent you focused market segment
  • have a goal
  • can achieve their goal with your amazing product

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