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Interactive Persona Modelling – The Game

A niche community of product development practitioners are embracing the use of Personas in their discovery phases. We have a soft spot towards it, which is mostly visible in the implementation of tests in BDD and ATDD, when we discuss it in the context of software development. Although, it should be used from the inception of any product.

Many argues that it needs a lot of overhead, to find an exponential number of ways a user can use a product. Finding a rational method to meet the expectations of these users is smart work, rather than hard work. Here is a good way to use the persona in software development. But I have never seen an interactive way of “modelling” the most effective persona. There’s even a dedicated tool for this online, which helps us to some extent. Although, majority are still exploring the concept and frankly are struggling due to the core reason. Time and cost. So..

How do we model a Persona without wasting too much time/cost ?

This article is about creating these Personas from scratch using a game called “Interactive Persona Modelling” and not about how we use it in practice.

What is a Persona?

  • An Archetypical user of the intended product
  • Fictitious but based on real user information
  • Bringing an imaginary user to real life with immutable set of personal data
  • Quite common to have more than one page of documentation written on each persona

Origin of the Game

Few days back, I was part of a mind blowing 2-days “thing” called Emergent Agile Leadership by Tobias Mayer, an Agile Philosopher and Psychiatrist (opinions are mine) painting a Teal shade among us. He has managed to shake up my thoughts more than any other agilists I have ever known. Why am I calling the event a “thing” though? Well, I am still struggling to find out what it was about and what happened to me during the sessions. All I have is more questions and the rest of the life to figure out the answers. It was the best experience so far, inside a room full of 12 more strangers, who somehow are not strangers anymore.

Tobias introduced us to his game “Help me to see it”. We were in a circle where one person starts with a name of any person and one characteristic to describe something about him/her. The game goes like this. The 2nd person now have a name and a feature of a hypothetical figure say “This is Simon who is short”. 2nd person now adds another characteristic like “Simon is a short midget who has pink hair”; 3rd – “He also have a fat belly”; 4th.. – “He is wearing leather shoes” — and so on. We ended up with something like this –

“Simon is a midget with pink hair and fat belly. He is wearing leather shoes while participating in a festival. He is drunk and dancing with a Monkey on his shoulder. By profession he is a martial arts trainer. Simon is shouting and swearing to the DJ and expressing his joy while taking a time off from work.”

 

Being a Dragon Ball Z nerd, this conversation immediately reminded me of this guy (that’s when I added the bit “He is a martial arts trainer”):

 

Anyway, as you can imagine things can easily go out of hands if someone start saying “Simon is now riding a unicorn”. At this point anyone from the group can say “I don’t see it, help me see it”. If the weird idea gain support, the next person in the queue (clockwise or anti-clockwise) can explain why Simon is riding the unicorn and keep the game running. Fortunately, we were all mature enough to stop it before it went out of bounds.

For keeping this game a special experience for you in one of Tobias’s sessions, I will not reveal other fun aspects of the game, but you get the picture. You can guess where I am going with this now, can’t you? Some mechanics of this above game helped me to formulate this special game for Persona Modelling.

The Game – “Interactive Persona Modelling”

Prerequisite

  1. Most of the attendees should NOT know why they are meeting on the day. If they do, you may end up getting biased, predictable and pre-planned persona.
  2. More members, the better; For a maximum of 15mins (negotiable) for each Persona.
  3. Invite multiple real users or clients on the day; Or invite employees who knows them very well say Account Managers, Product Owners/Managers or Stakeholders.
  4. A room to accommodate everyone depending on how many are joining.
  5. A Facilitator, who will also be the Scribe

The Game Flow

  1. The facilitator helps create a standing circle of individuals and initiates the first round by calling just “a” name without any behavioral patterns of the desired persona. Next person have to say where the persona adds value, say a “super-admin user”. From this point onwards, everyone starts to add their personal behavioral patterned one by one.
  2. Make it personal – A description of the Persona doesn’t have to be purely work related. Persona is supposed to be “life like” with pure emotional backgrounds such as where they work, how they drive, where they travel or who they supplied hash in past. If you find an image of a real person, go for it. It is supposed to look as real as possible and printed and hung on the wall for display. NO.. cats or dogs pictures are not allowed, unless you are building an artificial food for them as your product.
  3. The role Scribe, sees the facilitator writing down every aspect of the conversation which “no one is in control of”. If a member starts showing authority over this fun situation, the facilitator will have to step in and explain the rules one more time.
  4. Anyone is allowed to stop the game to understand the context of a behaviour/facts mentioned. If they don’t agree, they have to find 2 more individuals who also disagree. If 3 or more people disagree, that characteristic of the Persona will not be documented by the Scribe.
  5. If the game continues, it suggests everyone is in agreement. The cycle can stop after 1 minute or can run a maximum timebox of 15mins. It should be more than sufficient when the right individuals are in the room.
  6. If the game abruptly stops due to a disagreement, that specific behaviour/data/fact should be discussed outside of this timebox. It should not disrupt the 15mins planned runtime.
  7. On purpose, this game have to be played while standing without any distraction like mobiles, notebooks, laptops or even watches.
  8. When the timebox is up, Scribe/Facilitator will read the whole document aloud and let everyone know how the persona feels like to them. They he/she will format in a way the company prefers, adds the image and frame it. Job Done !

Scribe’s Role

The Scribe’s job is very crucial in this game, they have to note everything without thinking if it’s a valid data or invalid. Scribe can be a UX designer or a person with exceptional drawing skills who doesn’t write. Instead he/she create a visual summary. A Cartoonist perhaps, open up show your skills.

A Scenario

If a member says “the super-admin user should be able to search”, you may also expect someone say “the SA user can search any directory”. BUT the next person may say “SU cannot search data from Directory X, due to our software using E2E encryption on that database”. Result – It MAY expose the negative elements which no one really though about and came into picture because a PO once had a hard time dealing with it.

An Example (If I may !)

Say, we are building a software for FBI, where we are trying to use a Persona which represents a hypothetical drug lord near Albuquerque, New Mexico. We want to know what he is like and how he interacts with his fellow dealers, so the FBI can better predict their next move to raid the drug lab full of Crystal Meth, hidden somewhere near an industrial area.

Dr. Walter White aka Heisenberg

 

Walter is a graduate of the California Institute of Technology who once was a promising chemist. He co-founded the company “Gray Matter Technologies”. He left Gray Matter abruptly selling his shares for $5,000. Soon afterward, the company made a fortune of roughly $2.16 billion, much of it from his research.

Walt subsequently moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he became a high school chemistry teacher. He is diagnosed with Stage IIIA lung cancer. After this discovery, he resorts to manufacturing methamphetamine and drug dealing to ensure his family’s financial security after his death.

He is now pulled deeper into the illicit drug trade. He is taking more desperate and ruthless measures to assure his and his family’s safety and well-being. He has recently adopted the alias “Heisenberg” which is recognisable as the kingpin figure in the local drug trade. He remains a national security risk and should be shot on site. A reward of $1M will be paid to find him, dead or alive.

Known accomplish is Jesse Pinkman, who went under deep shit after being emotionally attached to Walter and is currently being hunted by the DEA (Next persona to be built soon).

 

Possibilities and Conclusion

Don’t you think we can make a brilliant TV series based on this story. I will name it “Breaking Bad”. Thumbs Up for this original idea, I have made up just now.. oh Wait ! 😉

Now you know where this game can be used, sky is your limit. Jokes apart, this method can create multiple personas within an hour, to be used in every aspect of the development cycle and not just testing. It can also be used in any other industry and just just software. Have a great time playing the game. Embrace the Personas and make a difference on your approach.