Persona-bly Speaking

September 24, 2009 3 comments

Recently, there has been much tweetage amongst the #prodmgmt community in the Twitterverse on the subject of personas.

It all started innocently enough when @bstnmelody tweeted “Need help from #prodmgmt cmmty. Translating customer interviews => personas. Any1 have framework they like besides Pragmatic?”  As when any of us in the community ask a question, there are many to step forward and offer advice and point us in the direction of reference materials (and that’s what makes the #prodmgmt community so great).  However, when @ms5 responsed with the  “I have an easy “framework”, if I can call it that! Just don’t do personas – they’re mostly a waste of time…” , a firestorm quickly followed.

Many in the #prodmgmt community, myself included, called @ms5 out for his bold statement that personas are a waste time.  We dove straight in and defended the honour of persona’s – reminding all of their value in software development, both for buyers and for users.

The risk of any electronic communication, especially when limited to 140 characters like we are in Twitter, is that sometimes what you intended to say is misinterpreted and that may be the case here.  As Michael was forced to defend himself against a claim that by not writing persona’s that he didn’t care about customer needs or that if you don’t do persona’s you cannot be successful.

However, what he seemed to really mean was that writing persona’s was a waste of time because people didn’t use them correctly and as such were not worth the time and effort spent to create them. (Michael, if I misinterpreted your point please correct me)

To me, this seems like the wrong approach.  Instead of tackling the problem head-on and figuring out where they went wrong, it seems like they took a defeatist stance – “if we can’t do it right, we won’t do it at all”.

I’m not going to go into a lot of details on why personas are valuable.  There have already been a number of other blog postings on the subject.  You can check out @jidoctor’s blog postings here and here for some insightful comments.

So, what are the problems with some personas and why might be creating them a waste of time?

  • The persona contains too much irrelevant details – the best personas I’ve seen get straight to the point – they describe what the person needs to do, how they do it today, how they get their information and some other characteristics that might drive how they accept and use technology.  Whatever it is that you need to make the right decisions for your product.  Don’t waste time defining a back-story for the person, what they like to do on weekends, what they had for lunch etc.  unless it really will help.  However, on the flip side, making them too generic won’t be useful either
  • Buyer personas vs. user personas – I’ve seen people try and use one set of persona’s to do both.  Unless your software is going to be used by the person who is signing the contract and paying the money, you need to understand the unique needs of both.  Buyer personas describe who the buyer is, what their challenges are, how they make decisions, how they buy software etc.  User personas describe the person who will be at the other end of the keyboard.
  • Writing one persona to describe all your users – the product that I am Product Manager for has many different users.  Each uses the system for different purposes.  Lumping them all together as one persona would be a waste of my time and would largely be unusable.
  • Writing personas without really understanding your user – are you writing based on the marketing materials and how people think the software will be used or have you been in front of your perspective and current users to truly understand their needs and challenges.  Writing from afar could be a waste of time
  • Writing them but not using them.  As @jidoctor blogged – “you put them on the shelf”.  Of course, putting in any amount of time and energy on something that is not used is a waste of time.

How are we using them?

  • Defining and describing the various users of our product – making sure that when we add or enhance functionality that we ensure that the solution addresses how they would use the software and what they need to do in way that makes sense to them.  Knowing our user has eliminated many hours of “debate”, allows development to focus and results in software that is well received by the user.
  • Understanding our buyers – what their pains are, how they buy software etc.  This has allowed Marketing and Sales to focus their efforts, concentrate on messages and collateral that is relevant and well understood.
  • To refine our technical documentation – how does the user of each guide want to reference the documentation, how do they learn, what do they need – do they want specific step by step instruction or instruction in context of what they need to achieve.  The documentation becomes worth the “paper it is printed on” (we actually don’t provide hardcopy, but you get the point)

Now, I’m not saying that writing personas is the only way to communicate “customer” needs, but when done correctly and used they can be indispensable.  I would be interested in hearing more from those who have not had the same experience.

Categories: Personas

Survey Says….

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

A few weeks back a new Product Management Survey co-sponsored by the 280 Group and Quantum Whisper was released (you can download a copy here

Like I assume many others of you, I was intrigued to see what the survey uncovered and wanted to look at the survey from three perspectives:

  1. What does the survey say about Product Managers and Product Management?
  2. How do the results compare against Pragmatic Marketing’s 2008 Annual Product Management and Marketing Survey?
  3. How do I match up against the crowd?

So, what does the survey say about Product Managers and Product Management?

Well, first off it was good to see that almost 90% of the respondents work for a company that has at least one product manager.  From looking at the results, we are a seasoned bunch – more than half of us have more than five years experience.  And why shouldn’t company’s value experienced Product Managers?  After all, based on the survey over 70% of us work more than 40 hours a week and 76% of us put in time on the weekends.  Who wouldn’t want a dedicated work force that is willing to put in all that extra time for nothing?

It begs the question – why are we working so many hours?

  • Approximately 65% of us are managing more than 3 products.  Does this mean that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to analyze the market, talk to customers, help sales, plan the next release, work with Development on the current release, etc. etc.?
  • Are we so bogged down in the tactical, that we spend the extra hours trying to be strategic?  If we aren’t being strategic, who is doing this for us?  Our immediate managers (i.e. still within Product Management)?  The Executive Team?  Sales?  No one?
  • Are you spending all your “regular” hours talking to your existing customers?  35% of Product Managers in companies selling B2B have up to 100 customers and 35% in B2C have up to 250 customers.  When do you find time to talk to your competitor’s customers and the ones who have yet to buy? 
  • And if we assume that when we put in this extra time, it is focused on company business, when are we finding time to follow each other on Twitter, read blogs, write blogs, plan and attend the various Product Camps, etc. to help enrich ourselves and share with others within the Product Management community?
  • Are we, as one respondent replied working extra hours “… so I can eventually get promoted OUT of product management hell?” What would be your next step? What were you before you were a Product Manager, was it really any better?

How does this compare to the Pragmatic Marketing survey?  Well, first, not surprising, there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between the questions in the two surveys.  This, I guess, is a good thing.  The Pragmatic Marketing survey tells us the following:

  • We go to a lot of meetings – at least 40% of our time is spent in meetings – and we receive 50 e-mails / day and send 25.  No wonder we have to work so many hours over and about 40 each week?  When do we have time to do any work when we are sitting in meeting rooms or working on e-mail?  How many of us are multi-tasking and working on e-mail on our Blackberry’s while we are sitting in these meetings?
  • The Pragmatic survey has a great chart that shows just how we are spending those hours – or at least how we claim to be.  What’s interesting, are the things we just aren’t getting done.  Less than 40% of Product Managers are doing win / loss analysis, going on sales calls and visiting sites without sales.

So, where do I fit?

  • I’ve been a Product Manager for more than seven years now.  I too, put in far more than 40 hours a week while I am in the office and on the road.  Time is spent most weekends on just trying to keep my head above water.
  • And I only manage one product – ok, it has multiple diverse modules – but in reality, it is 1 SKU on the price list.  It is an enterprise B2B software solution – so, it is pretty big, but nonetheless, I wonder how I would manage to keep ahead if I had more than one big product to manage.

Am I working hard – to get promoted OUT of Product Management hell?  Not a chance.  Are you?

Categories: Surveys

Be gentle, it’s my first time

September 12, 2009 1 comment

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, I welcome you to my inaugural blog.  As I sit here and write, I wonder, “Does the world really need another blog about Product Management”?  Well, need it or not – they are getting one. 

A river of fears and doubts washes over me as I wonder if I really have anything interesting, relevant, entertaining and/or educational to offer.  They say to write about what you know – and as a Product Manager, I hopefully know “something” about product management.  How much, is up for debate and I guess time will tell.  Will anyone actually read this?  Sure, they might read this first post – but will they come back and read my 2nd, my 3rd… will I have enough to say for a 4th?  As it ends up, I may have a lot to say – the real question is will there be anyone there to listen? You, my readers (is there anyone out there?), will be the judge as to whether or not I actually do know anything or if I am just full of shitake (as Guy Kawasaki would say).

Today, in his post 25 Words Or Less, Ivan lybbert of the My Product Management Opinion blog writes about being able to explain what a Product Manager does in “25 Words or Less”.  Can you describe it so that even your mother and father can understand what it is?  We can all dream of the conversations our parents can have with their friends and neighbours “Your daughter is a world famous neurosurgeon?” my Mom would say and she would then puff out her chest and say “That’s nice, but my son is a Product Manager!”  Her heart filled with pride.  Like most young boys growing up, I dreamt of becoming a Product Manager and I am proud to say that today, I am living my dream(*).

In the blog posting VP Engineering has a mandate. You need one too. Alan Armstrong of the On Product Management blog writes that Product Management needs a mandate.  It got me thinking, not only does Product Management need a mandate, but this blog probably needs one too. (By the way, veering off topic, “I Love You Man” was a very entertaining movie.  If you haven’t seen it, rent it, you won’t be disappointed – and if I do say so – a very good play on words by Alan as well)

So, in “25 words or less” what is my mandate for this blog? It’s simple, “to ruminate; to entertain and educate; to share my thoughts and opinions about topics related to Product Management and to incite you to share yours.”

The gauntlet is down, the mandate has been spoken. Now it’s up to me to fulfill the promise.

Until next time…

 (*) – Okay, small untruth on my part here.  I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a Product Manager, but it’s not a bad choice, who needs all the fame and fortune that being a professional athlete, astronaut and famous rock star brings, when I can have the challenge and agro of being a Product Manager.

Categories: General Thoughts