User Personas for Technology Selection Projects

Personas By CannedTuna on flickrI’ve been playing around with the idea of User Personas for use in technology selection projects.  I’ve used user personas while building various websites and applications, but never used them (or heard of them being used) in technology selection projects.

If you aren’t familiar with the idea of user personas, go read Ten Steps to User Personas or Personas: The Foundation of a Great User Experience or User personas and how they can improve your site for a brief background on how personas are used.

Again – I’ve mostly run across personas in the web space as a way to help guide/drive design of websites and content.  I have used user ‘scenarios’ before in selection projects but never taken the formal step of creating personas.

In my thinking about the subject, I’ve come up with a few positives outcomes of creating personas for selection projects.  They are:

  • Thinking about personas forces you to think about the people first.  What type of people will use your technology? How will those people interact with it?
  • Personas force you to roleplay and gameplay your technology strategy.  While thinking about user personas, you are forced to walk through your strategy and technology roadmap to ensure it matches your organizational culture.
  • Thinking about personas forces you to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics.  Do you have the right people in place to take advantage of the technology?
  • Personas can help you think through support requirements for the new technology.

Now…most of the above are things that any good team and/or consultant should do anyway…but by focusing first on the users and user personas, wouldn’t it force to you really think through your strategy and technology from a people perspective? I think so.

Let’s take a look at an example of how user personas might help in technology selection.

Imagine you’re tasked with selecting a Web Content Management System (WCM) for your organization. The idea is to allow a large portion of users to have access to the WCM to create their own content and then push that content through an editing / publishing workflow.

Seems simple enough right? You put out an RFP and begin your technology selection process.  You look at demos and have tons of meetings and finally select the ‘winner’ based on your selection criteria.

You’ve developed your requirements for the technology. You know what you want the WCM to ‘do’…but do you know what users will be using it and/or how those users will interact with it?  Does the new WCM align well with your organizational culture? Is the chosen platform usable and useful to the people in your organization?

Sure…you want a platform that is ‘easy to use’, etc…but ‘easy to use’ for you is different than ‘easy to use’ for Janice, the 65 year old user from Group X who’ll be the one responsible for updating the content for that group.    Will Janice be able to use the content editor screen of the WCM to input or edit content ?  Will she have to know HTML to do her job?

Does the WCM you’ve chosen allow a user like Janice to do her job without some serious customization?  If not, what work will be needed to make it easier for Janice to embrace this new platform?

The answers to these questions are strictly dependent on how you develop your selection criteria….and I think user personas will help. By crafting user personas that covers the broadest range of users, you ensure that the people using the technology are considered. Building a set of user personas for your internal user groups will help you not only craft a good technology strategy but also help in selecting the right technology platform for your organization.

Personas have been used for years in the application development and web design/development fields…but I’ve never seen them used for technology selection projects.  I’ve seen some consultants use user stories and user scenarios for technology selection and strategy projects but I haven’t seen personas …..have you?

If you’ve used personas in technology selection projects, I’d love to know how they worked out for you.

Image credit: Personas by CannedTuna, on Flickr

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