Putting a Face to a Name – Personas for Better User Stories

A number of years ago, I worked in an organization that developed and released highly successful consumer products. I was (and still am) convinced that a part of that success can be attributed to this organization’s thorough (can we say OCD?!) analysis and definition of their target end-user.


People, when I say thorough, I mean thorough. Like me scrubbing those little edges between the kitchen counter and the stove with a toothbrush and a flashlight THOROUGH. (Hey, no judgement!)


For EACH variation of EACH product released out into the market, there was an elaborate definition of the target user (i.e. Persona) which included their age, marital status, family size, interests, and yes, their name.


I have to admit, at the time, I couldn’t help but think that this was overkill. Come on, did I really need to know that Supermom Sally had 3 (vs. 2? vs. 4?) kids and loved scrapbooking?

(I did love finding out that she multitasked like a pro and kept everything under control while maintaining a cool exterior and perfect hair. My kinda woman.)


So, although I did find value in understanding the different types of end-user in a general sense, it was a stretch for me to buy into the idea of needing to know their life story in order to make product and feature-level decisions.


Fast-forward to today, where requirements are now user stories, and the user is the center of my project world. Our success hinges on either (at a minimum) or both (ideally) of the following:

  • Our ability to get into the head of our target user and understand their needs, even those they might not know they have. (By the same token, we need to be able to detemine when something that the user might think is a need is actually, well, not.)
  • Our ability to listen to our target user when we have the opportunity to get their input and feedback throughout the life of the project.


Guess what I’ve found to be a great tool in achieving the above?


A well-defined, clearly articulated persona definition for the end-user.


Now, does that mean we need to determine how many kids Techy Tim has in order to be able to figure out whether he needs a drop-down or a checkbox?
Probably not in all cases, but in retrospect, for the industry I was in years ago when I was first exposed to elaborate persona-creation, it was probably a good idea.


Moral of the story: There is power in putting a face to a name. For better user stories, spend a little time to get to know your target end-user and create personas that your team can refer back to.

They will both (the end-user and team) appreciate you for it, and the proof will be in the success of your project/product.

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One Response to Putting a Face to a Name – Personas for Better User Stories

  1. Great example of how user stories can benefit any project, not just agile software development from whence they came. The user story concept is also very self-contained, so you don’t need to be a blackbelt ninja agile warrior to adopt it.
    Jeff Franz-Lien recently posted..TRIZ #3 – You Had Me At HelloMy Profile

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