A Template for Writing Great Personas

Posted on Thursday 3rd May 2012

Summary

Personas are a great way to capture our knowledge about the users and customers and their needs. But writing effective personas and providing enough but not too much information can be challenging. This blog post introduce a simple yet powerful template that helps you write great personas.

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Personas in a Nutshell

A persona is a fictional character that represents a subset of the market we want to address. A persona typically has a name, a picture, relevant characteristics such as age or income group, behavioural traits, common tasks, and a goal that describes the problem the persona wants to see solved or the benefit the character wants to achieve. This information is traditionally based on direct observation, interviews, and other qualitative market research.

Personas should help us develop sympathy for our users and customers. They encourage us to embrace a user-centred approach: Putting the users first, and building a product that that does a great job for the users by meeting the goals of the personas.

Alan Cooper pioneered  personas in product development in the 1990ies. Today they are a technique every product manager and product owner should be familiar with.

A Persona Template

While personas are a powerful technique to capture our knowledge about the users and customers of a product, it can be tricky to write effective personas: Some persona descriptions I have seen were too detailed and bloated; others lacked important information. That’s particularly true when agile and lean practices are applied, and good enough persona descriptions are appropriate, which are updated and refined as more knowledge about the users and customers and their needs becomes available.

Using personas for my now products and in my client-facing work, I have found that there are three pieces of information that are particularly valuable to creating effective personas: the persona’s picture and name, the persona’s details, and the persona’s goal. I therefore use the template below to write personas. Simply click in the picture to download the template as a PDF.

RomansPersonaTemplate

The first two sections in the template above describe who the persona is. The last one is particularly important, as it makes us ask why the persona would want to purchase or use our product.

An Example

Here is an example of how the template can be applied. It features one of the personas of a new book I have recently started to work on:

Notice that I have tried to make the persona description as relevant as possible. I have left out information that is not essential to understand who the character is and why the person would want to read the book. For instance, I decided not to include Peter’s marital status.

At the same time, I have tried to be as specific as I can right now about the persona, so I can validate my assumptions. As I find out more about the target readers of the book, I will undoubtedly iterate over Peter’s description, and update it.

While refining your persona, ensure that the character is believable and that its description allows you to develop empathy for it. You can do this, for instance, by adding pictures, likes and dislikes to the characteristics.

Visualising the Personas

I prefer to capture personas on paper, so I can easily visualise them, for instance, by putting them on the Product Canvas, as the picture below illustrates. An A4 paper sheet usually works well.

PersonasOnTheProductCanvas

Another advantage of using paper-based personas is the limited space available. This helps us focus on the relevant information rather than writing everything down we believe to know about the user.

Wrap-up

Personas are a great technique to describe the users and the customers. Employing the persona template introduced in this post helps you create effective personas by describing what matters while leaving out the rest.

You can learn more about working with personas and applying the persona template by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner an Product Canvas training course. The courses are also available for onsite delivery. Please contact me for more information.

[This post was last updated on 18 December 2013.]

26 comments on “A Template for Writing Great Personas

  1. [...] Personas to describe target users and customers together with their needs [...]

  2. John says:

    Does it really matter what the persona looks like? Wouldn’t it be better to put more focus on the situation that the potential user will be in.

    • Hi John, I find that giving a persona a face makes the user believable and helps develop empathy. I capture information about the user’s situation in the context/characteristics or the needs section. Does this help?

  3. John says:

    Hi Roman, i think so, as long as the personas have been created after discussions with actual potential users/customers, personally im still not sure about needing to give a face to a persona, although i can appreciate why some people do this.

    When i say situation i mean with regards to a specific situation that an individual will be in for example when needing to use a web app in a particular way for something very specific, i understand that it will be different when doing this for a book or something else.

    I think that sometimes when people are creating personas that they still might miss the point and are creating fluff when it might not always be a type of person using something, but a person in a type of situation.

    • Hi John, As a persona is meant to be a fictional character using a picture should help you to not confuse it with a real user or customer. I agree that personas should not be fluffy but specific and relevant. I sometimes capture the persona’s need to be addressed or the problem to be solved as a scenario to make it more concrete.

  4. John says:

    @Roman, although the persona is a fictional character are you putting together a persona based on actual info gathered from real people beforehand? My reason for asking is although you mention not to confuse it with a real user or customer, the end result is targetted at a real user/customer.

    Im guessing that you are not meaning creating a persona purely from speculation.

    • When determining how much time and effort should be spend upfront to create a persona, I recommend investing the bare minimum. The quickly validate the assumptions, and adapt the persona — rather than spending many weeks or months with extensive upfront research. I am hoping to write more about this topic in a separate post in the near future.

  5. John says:

    @Roman it makes sense, i can see how it could be easy to spend too much time on a persona at the beginning.

    I will look forward to your future posts.

  6. [...] Personas describe the target group using fictional users and customers including the needs to be addressed or the problem to be solved. The section therefore explains who we believe is likely to use and purchase and the product and why. (I discuss personas in more detail in my post A Template for Writing Great Personas). [...]

  7. Synesthesia says:

    [...] A Persona Template for Agile Product Management [...]

  8. Abhay Mathur says:

    Good stuff, and really useful. I would recommend to add one more column (and this comes from kind of products I work on) titled “Usage conditions”. This column would have details of situations & devices information. For example, a pre-sales manager uses my product while on move via a tablet computer whereas the sales coordinator is always in office accessing the product via desktop computer.

    • Hi Abhay, Thanks for your feedback and suggestion. I usually try to keep my personas free from solution-specifcs, particularly for new products and product updates aimed at new markets where the target users and their needs are often not thoroughly understood at the outset. To capture how target users are likely to interact with the product, I use user journey diagrams, as I’ve briefly describe here: http://www.romanpichler.com/blog/the-product-canvas/

  9. [...] As <a persona>, I want to <use product functionality> so that [...]

  10. [...] the epic above tells us that the persona John wants to register for an event [...]

  11. Ana Pereira says:

    Great post. I’m launching an app that provides another 2 templates for personas, borrowed from the business model generation: Empathy Maps and Value Proposition Designer. I’d love to have feedback from you http://bit.ly/TzdgHa

  12. Personas are so powrful along a number of vectors, that, after having been reluing on this tecnique for many projects, I cannot do without. That said, researching, patternize and crystallize persona into vivid, lifelike characters can be a long process, that includes live interviews. Nobody can afford that upfront (personas like requirements may change). So, I reccomend using an iterative approach the persona discovery process, starting from assumptions, testing them outside the building, rebuilding them and retesting them. LIve interviews tell you quickly what to ask next. Then you can run surveys. Never base personas on internal discussions only…

  13. [...] This blog posts introduces a simple yet powerful persona template that is optimised for lean and agile product development.  [...]

  14. [...] You can read more about personas in the post  “A Template for Writing Great Personas”. [...]

  15. [...] I use personas in my stories (instead of user roles) [...]

  16. [...] personas, user stories, scenarios [...]

  17. Leighton Schnell says:

    Thanks for the article.
    What about thinking about and listing how the persona found the product, through which channel they purchased, and how they will interact with the brand?
    As for time to create a persona, I am sure there can be wide variance, but I find that they typically come in groups and can be created over the course of a few hours or less.

    • Hi Leighton, Thanks for your comment. I capture the marketing and sales channels on the Vision Board or Business Model Canvas. I usually create a Vision Board / Business Model Canvas first, carry out some initial research and validation, and then use the information gathered to create the provisional personas. Does this make sense?

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