RE: Are you using personas? (take II)

Subject: RE: Are you using personas? (take II)
From: "Miller, Alan" <Alan -dot- Miller -at- prometric -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 3 Feb 2003 10:10:42 -0500

I apologize for the delayed reply. Weekend, you know. The Boss had plans.

Alan Bucher made some observations on my musings:
<<Miller, Alan wrote:
>I don't make up a person. I pick out one I know will be using the
>product and consistently asks dumb questions, and write to

A persona doesn't *have to* be fictional. Sounds like you just
defined a persona right there. So write it down and flesh it out a
bit more.>>

Why? If it does the job, why monkey with it? (Apologies to the monkeys.)

<<>(Our products are for in-house use and I personally know most of
>the users.) ... After a few interviews (and a few more beers), I
>got to know that audience pretty well, too. I just picked out a
>couple and wrote for them.

This has the danger of assuming that your audience is static and
heterogeneous. What happens when one of these people quits and
they bring on someone new? Is your doc suited for a novice? Did
you write for that person? Or did you only write for the
three-people-with-unique-personalities who existed at a single
point in time?>>

These are excellent questions. Questions that should be asked at the very beginning of a project. Usually, these are issues that I always addressed before I even submitted a bid. I've always considered these as part of the defined Scope of Work in my bid. In short, it all depends. Recognize that large, complex engineered systems change with time, personnel change. The documentation is always, of necessity, a static snap-shot of one point. With adequate provision for revision.

<<>>put a little investment in at the beginning to get a bigger
>>payoff later on.
>Only for those with deep pockets a short arms. :-{)

I get the sense that you think that you have to run down to the
local writing store and purchase personas for $50K each or
something. If you have a good sense of your audience, just spend
a day writing up the characteristics that you notice in your
users. Include any quirks that you feel might be relevant. Easy
stuff, generally. No deep pockets required.>>

You mean I can't get one at Orifice Depot? Durn. ;-{) If it works for you and it doesn't make you miss a deadline or go over budget, good. If it's part of the scope of work, even better. But that's not always the case.

<<>It's mostly common sense. I learned the techniques I use when I
>attended Naval Instructors' School (way back in ... well ... I'll
>say there was some unpleasantness going on in Southeast Asia and
>leave it at that). He just figured out a way to make a buck off
>of it.

Most formal business processes aren't invented out of
nothing. They're based on observations and codified into
easily-digestible and sharable rules. But do you make *no*
allowance for the possibility of new and worthwhile user-analysis
guidelines to have been developed in the last 40 years?>>

The point I failed to make clear is that personas are _not_ new. I call it common sense, others call it "know your audience." Writers have been doing it since before Moses was a pup. Do I make *no* allowance for the possibility of new, etc.? There is _always_ a possibility. Mostly, though, what's called "new" is not really. I have to admit that I've not had the time to review and evaluate all the current research.

<<>What we're loosing sight of here is that although Award Winning
>Processes are very nice, most businesses don't want to (nor do
>they see the need to) spend "extra" money for those
>processes. While I no longer consult, I am still acutely aware of
>the economic realities. The client wants his purchase to be cheap
>and on time, good, too, if he can get it. World Class Processes
>and Fictional Personas aren't what he's paying for. He wants his
>manual. So write it for him.

Well, that depends on the client. Some think you're not doing any
work if they don't hear the sound of keys being struck. Others
understand that you're actually working even when you're staring
out the window in contemplation. If you're stuck with a sneering,
cigar-chomping taskmaster who wants to see words on paper, then I
agree that personas aren't for you. On the other hand, if your
boss smiles and nods when you say "give me a couple of days to
learn more about my audience and formalize a description of who
I'm writing for", then personas are a useful tool.>>

Boy! Do I miss the cigar-chomping days. MBCC (Management By Cigar Chomping) is a sub-set of MBWA. The blue haze and distinctive aroma gave the worker ample visual and olfactory warning that the Boss was in the vicinity and it was time to Get Back to Work.

I hate it when the Boss smiles and nods. He/she/it is either up to something unpleasant or has completely misunderstood what just happened.

<<>"Chief Documentation Curmudgeon"

No kidding. :-P>>


Al Miller
"Chief Documentation Curmudgeon"
Prometric, Inc., a part of the Thomson Corporation
Baltimore, Maryland

There are wars, there is pain, there is suffering, and there is even death. But none of these things prepare you for Monday morning.
-- William Wallace


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