‘How To’… Create User & Buyer Scenarios

Updated June, 2020

User and buyer scenarios are useful Product Management tools for both communication and design. They are used to share and communicate customer situations with your Product team so that they can design ‘market driven’ Products. They also help you gain a better understanding of your customers, offering insight into their motivations and lives.

Both of these help you build better, more successful Products.

But what exactly are user and buyer scenarios and how do you create one?

A User Scenario is a structured description of a situation or event that a potential User (or Buyer) of the Product is likely to experience as they seek to achieve their goals. They are used during the product planning stage to reduce higher level market problem descriptions into smaller problem chunks where the more detailed requirements can be identified and documented.

Creating these scenarios is similar to the creative process in designing storyboard for an advertisement or a writing a script for a play, however the source of inspiration for the scenarios is based on real customer insights gathered prior to this stage.

What is the difference between users and buyers?

Before we get into creating scenarios it’s important to be clear on how we are distinguishing between users and buyers. They are often used interchangeably and it’s important to know the difference.

  • The people who actually use your Product or service and whose problems are solved by it. Also called ‘end-users’.
  • The people who authorises the purchase of your Product, or who has a significant degree of influence over it. For a business to consumer (B2C) Product this is also often the user. For a business-to-business (B2B) Product it’s often different.

User scenarios are usually most useful for Product Managers who are trying to make sure their Products solve a problem. Buyer scenarios are more commonly used by sales or marketing to smooth out any friction in the purchasing process or to work out whether different buyers have different needs or vested interests which need to be addressed.

When do Product Managers create user scenarios?

User scenarios are usually defined after the Product Manager has defined the attributes, behaviours and goals of the target markets in the form of ‘personas’. The Product Manager then needs to crystallise the series of situations the personas will experience to achieve their goals when interacting with the Product.

What are the benefits of using user scenarios?

During the customer-centric design and Product Development Process, Product Managers are trying to understand the unmet needs of target customers. Scenarios provide a focus for Product Management, marketing, the development team and salespeople to understand the context of when and where a new Product or service may affect a target user or buyer.

Scenarios not only describe the context of each touch-point between the user and the Product, but also the typical situations the user is likely to encounter. They map out, in detail, the whole end-to-end process including decision-making, purchase, and usage.

User scenarios are particularly useful for more complex situations where a number of scenarios can be linked together to break a larger interaction down in to smaller, more manageable components. They are also very good at forcing Product Managers to look at each problem through the eyes of the user.

User scenarios help you switch perspectives and link different target markets

To design for different target markets, user scenarios  help you switch perspectives more easily, giving you the ability to understand the nuances between your target markets and enabling you to create a more cohesive experience for these markets. As a Product Manager you need to:

  1. Manage your Products at a strategic level to define the key markets you serve.
  2. Identify the market problems worth solving.
  3. Understand the very detailed interactions that users will need to have with your Product to make it a success.

User and buyer scenarios allow you to systematically link all of these different aspects together. You can drill down from the high-level requirements that may be described in a business case to much more detailed requirements necessary to develop a great Product that users love.

What is the structure of a user scenario?

With a user scenario we are trying to provide a frame for a number of related tasks that will eventually bring the user to their desired goal. To do this each user scenario needs to have a start point and a desired end point that frames the resulting tasks. Often the end point of one user scenario will be the start point of the next one, and the scenarios will be linked together to describe the overall user experience.

For example, if we consider the common process of travelling to work every day we could map out several user scenarios that explored different transport methods or  specific challenges.

This scenario may begin with our user (eg Angela) fully dressed and ready for work, just leaving their house and it will end when they have arrived at their place of work. To better understand the potential challenges that our user may face we can now explore each step that may be required to get them to their destination.

  • Primary actor: User interacting with the Product to achieve their Goal – Angela
  • Goalof the primary actor: Angela needs to get to her office in the city before 8:30 am but wanted to leave home no earlier than 7:30am.
  • Start conditions: Angela is at home and is ready to go to work
  • Trigger conditions: It is 7:30am and Angela has just stepped out of her front door.
  • Ending conditions: Angela has arrived at work at 8:25am.

Completing the user scenario

Once the user scenario has been defined we can explore all of the different steps that the user will need to complete to reach the ending condition. These can be brainstormed on ‘Post-It’ notes that can be later sequenced into an overall flow of activity. The tasks should try to avoid specifying any particular components of a potential solution, although sometimes this is difficult to avoid.

In the above example we may specifically want to explore the user scenario where Angela catches a bus to work. In this case, part of the solution definition will be to clarify the tasks that are followed in the user scenario.

“User scenarios” should not be limited just to situations when the user persona is interacting with the Product. They should be developed to cover the entire customer experience with a Product, and should include the marketing, sales, purchasing and support experiences. This is where the user scenario for the buyer (buyer scenario) will be applied instead.

How do you write compelling user scenarios that guide the planning process?

Developing a series of Scenarios for each of your target markets can be a fun creative and collaborative process.

Step 1. Gather customer insights

Gather information about your target markets from a number of sources. Ideally you would have both qualitative and quantitative market research, website statistics and insights (if you are managing a digital Product), customer interviews and your observations of customer behaviour.

Step 2. Define the target markets in the form of personas

Develop the primary and secondary personas to represent the desired target market. Ideally, you develop personas for both the user and buyer. In some cases, the buyer and user may be the same, or they may change depending on which stage of the purchase process, you are looking at.

Step 3. Develop user scenarios for each persona

Starting with the overall market problem, and the primary target market, create a high-level user scenario that starts without the user knowing a solution exists, and ends with their primary goal being met. Each task within this scenario can then be broken down into a new, more granular, user scenario.

Depending on the size of the organisation, running a workshop with all team-members who have the most amount of knowledge of various aspects of each target market could be a quick, collaborative way developing a series of user scenarios.

When we run market segmentation workshops, we start the workshop by understanding the organisational, business and Product goals and objectives. We then build or validate the user and buyer personas.

Step 4. Articulate the customer needs

List out the all the tasks, frustrations & problems which each different user persona experiences during each scenario. Be specific about EXACTLY what the problem or task is and make sure it’s specific to the particular user you are talking about.

Step 5. Consolidate the market segmentation

Once all the user and buyer personas, scenarios, goals, tasks and problems have been collated and mapped out then the information can be easily packaged up into a Market Requirements Document (MRD). The scenarios not only bring the users’ tasks to life but also make the document come to life for the readers, internal stakeholders who will play a crucial role in helping you design, develop and market your Product.

User scenario examples

At Brainmates we’ve developed user scenarios as a part of the market requirements process for many different clients, here are two examples:

Example #1. In gathering the user requirements for a new translation process and system for a large multinational technology company, we captured the diverse needs of each of the three main users. This include the translators, internal approvers and project managers for a broad audience including management, software developers and process designers.

Here’s an example of one scenario:

  • Primary persona: Helena, Translation Co-ordinator
  • Goal: To have a translation plan for a new software interface for each region.
  • Start condition: Product Manager briefs the Translation Co-ordinator about the Product, which languages it needs to be translated into, and time-lines.
  • Trigger: The Product development project is approved.
  • End condition: A translation plan is drafted for each global market.

Example #2: As a part of the project scoping and requirements gathering process in planning for the launch of a new government travel website, we articulated the needs of the various travel planner personas. Travel planners were the main users that organised travel to specific destinations.

  • Primary persona: Janice, Singaporean Events Planner
  • Goal: To plan the most memorable event at an exciting new destination for her client.
  • Start condition: Janice is scheduled to meet with a long-standing client to be briefed on a new event.
  • Trigger: The client briefs Janice on what they require for the event, where they would like it held and the budget.
  • End condition: Janice has all the information she needs to research and collate a proposal including a 3-day itinerary and costings for the client.

Next time you are embarking on the market requirements stage, consider articulating more detail around your target customers’ needs through the use of scenarios. They bring your personas to life and provide context to the user tasks that the rest of your team are trying to develop and market for.

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