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Customer Personas: How to Write Them and Why You Need Them in Agile Software Development

Article originally posted on blog.easyagile.com

 

Workshop - Identifying & Creating Customer Personas.001.jpeg

It might seem trivial at first, to come together as a team, mocking up what seem like fake dating profiles for your most important customers. However, this exercise sets the foundation for other agile practices down the track, and its perceived benefits are often undervalued.

Teams that have a shared understanding and alignment around who is actually using the solution they are delivering are more likely to succed.

Agile practices have called for the development of cross-functional team members, which means this knowledge of who the customer is, is no longer the sole responsibility of a (traditional) Sales and Marketing team.

 

Definition: What is a Customer Persona?

Let’s dive straight in.

Customer Personas are fictional generalisations of your most valuable customers. They help teams understand their customers by bringing together demographic information like age, gender, location, and income, alongside psychographic information like interests, frustrations and personal/professional motivations.

Customer Persona Example - System Administrator Sam.001.jpeg

Building customer personas helps teams to address the following questions:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What are their common behavioural patterns?
  • What are their shared pain points (professional and personal)?
  • What are their universal goals/objectives?
  • What general demographic and psychographic information may influence their decisions?
  • What drives them to make purchasing decisions?
  • Is the customer the buyer/decision maker?

 

Why are Customer Personas Important in Agile Software Development?


I think by now, you’re starting to see that building customer personas provide value to the team, but just in case you’re not quite on the customer-persona train, here are a few really important reasons:


Customer Personas help identify customer specific needs and wants:

This understanding ensures that Product Managers, Designers, Developers etc. are delivering solutions that actually address real user challenges.

 

Personas provide a "face" to the user story:

This helps the team have a shared understanding of who their customers are and creates buy-in and empathy.

 

Targeted/Segmented MarComs:

Understanding your customers needs, challenges and behavioural influencers, allows you to better understand what content will appeal to them best, by segmenting your customers by persona type and tailoring your marketing communications to each specific group.

 

Before We Start: Customer Persona Overview 

Let’s look at an overview of what “goes into” building customer personas and some discovery questions to help get you started.

Persona-Overview.jpg


As you can see, a lot more thought goes into creating customer personas than simply guessing and gut feeling. So how do we go about defining all of the elements listed above, and more specifically, what questions are we hoping to answer about our customers along the way?

Let’s take a look at some discovery questions:

Location: where do people from this persona live?
Age: what is the average age/age range of this persona?
Gender: are people representative of this persona predominantly male or female?
Relationship Status: Single? Married? Children? 
Interests: what are the general interests of people in this persona?
Language: what is the primary language used by people in this persona?
Favourite Websites: where do people in this persona go to learn new information?
Education: what level of education do they have?
Job Title: what is/are typical job titles for people in this persona?
Responsibilities: what does a typical work day look like for people in this persona?
Frustrations: biggest challenges for people in this persona?
Motivations: what motivates people in this persona to be successful?
Personal/Professional Goals: what do they wish to achieve?

 

Getting Started: Building Customer Personas 

It’s time to start creating our personas, and we’re going to break the process down into 2 steps;

  1. Broadly define your personas 
  2. Look towards analytics and layer results 

 

1. Broadly Define Your Personas

It’s not crazy to think that most companies will have some broad idea of who at least some of their customer personas are. This knowledge is accumulated over time and is based on customer feedback, support requests, conversations/interviews and initial market research.

This knowledge is not to be underestimated and is a great starting point before looking towards analytics to flesh these personas out into more specific detail.

Keep in mind that a single team member will not be able to paint a holistic picture of who the customers are. The qualitative methods of gathering information we listed above will call upon the knowledge of Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Managers, Researchers etc. This is very much a team exercise.


Example: Online Stationary Retailer

If we took an example of an online stationery retailer, it would be simple to identify two broad potential customer personas:

  • End Consumer - customers purchasing for themselves online 
  • Wholesale Accounts - wholesale buyers purchasing on behalf of businesses that will stock the stationary in their own retail stores (online or flagship)

We can see from the ‘personas’ listed above that we have a vague idea about their roles in the purchasing cycle, but that’s about the extent of it. We need to build on these personas to humanise them, and get a better understanding of their holistic relationship with our product.

 

2. Look Towards Analytics and Layer Results 

Now that we’ve established at least a few customer personas, it’s time to flesh them out with qualitative and quantitative data.

So where can we find/gather this information?

  • Google Analytics Audience Reports 
  • Facebook Insights 
  • Social Media Listening Tools e.g. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck etc. 
  • Customer Surveys & Polls 
  • Industry/Market Reports 
  • Customer Interviews/Support & Feature Requests (note: you should have a streamlined way of capturing and sharing this information with your team)
  • In-Product Analytics 

 

After looking through all of this information, trying to answer some of the discovery questions we mentioned earlier, you’ll need to look for commonality between datasets. Think of it this way:

The customer personas you and your team were able to broadly define are attached to funnels. Once you and your team find commonality in data sets, feed this information down the funnel of the customer persona it relates to (perhaps this is a completley new customer persona that you and your team didn’t know that you had). By the end of the exercise, you and your team should have a pretty good idea of who your customers are, and how to best service them, communicate with them, build solutions for them etc.

Once these personas have been developed, they should live somewhere where the whole team can see them.

Don’t be afraid to sit at your desk and think “What would Sam the System Administrator think about this new feature? Would she use it? How would she communicate its benefits to her team? What are some of the problems Sam may encounter on first use?” etc.

 

8 comments

Jodi LeBlanc Community Leader Apr 16, 2018

What a great post! The UX team in Government of Canada develops personas, this article explains all the questions I had when my colleagues talk about this subject. I love the Discovery questions :) 

Like ABHISHEK PRATHAPAN likes this
Teagan Harbridge May 03, 2018

Thanks @Jodi LeBlanc

That's fantastic, I'm glad it was able to provide you with some sort of clarity. What are some of the most common questions/push back you get when talking about building personas with your team?

Justin Malvin Jul 06, 2018

Great primer on personas! I'm passing this around, thank you!

Teagan Harbridge Jul 09, 2018

Great stuff @Justin Malvin

Teddy Aug 19, 2018 • edited Jan 14, 2019

.

Teagan Harbridge Aug 19, 2018

Hi Teddy, 

Thanks for taking the time to read through our post. I can't speak to Jira, however I know of teams (ours included) where personas live inside of Confluence. These personas can be shared, accessed by the team, and linked to appropriate issues inside of Jira. 

I hope that helps!

Teagan [Easy Agile]

Isabel Moreira Sep 24, 2018

Thank you very much you´ve really made it simple to understand.  Also passing this around! :)

Teagan Harbridge Oct 01, 2018

Thanks @Isabel Moreira, that's fantastic to hear! I hope the rest of the team find it valuable too :) 

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