Tips for Business Analysts: Using Personas

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Have you noticed the examples of requirements elicitation on my blog? In one case, I had a bit of a contest, using a game to elicit information. You can see this technique by looking in the category Online Game on the blog. Then I had a survey to elicit information. You can see that survey by looking in the category Survey on the blog. Today I am going to use the information from the survey to show you another technique you might use when developing requirements. That technique is writing Personas (or Personae for you Latin fans).

You write a Persona when you want to understand your customers better. This Persona is a story you will tell about a typical (but not real) customer. The Persona is a composite story about your typical customers, made very lifelike.

In looking over my survey, I find that 75% of you who responded are working Business Analysts. You are looking for a wide variety of information, but typically in shorter forms such as tips and examples, rather than classes. You are typically alone in front of your computer when looking for information, and could be anywhere at any time of the day or night. You are looking for an online, interactive, multimedia experience. So let’s take that information and develop some Personas.

I started off by imaging a relatively young person with some work experience who is really comfortable with the computer and internet, and who readily goes online to find information at any time a question arises. Now I imagine some real people and write their stories.

Woman Athlete
© Christophe Baudot . Image from BigStockPhoto.com

Karen Carmichael is 27 years old. She graduated from a U.S. college with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Information Systems. She has worked as a Business Analyst for a large bank in Chicago, Illinois for the 5 years since graduation on a wide variety of software projects. Karen is single and loves sports. She is a member of her company’s softball team in the summer, and an avid football and basketball fan in the fall and winter.

Karen feels that she received a fine education in college, but working on real projects for a major corporation is quite different from her school projects. She has many peers at her bank that she can talk with, but often situations arise that are not easy to resolve.

Karen is quite comfortable with a computer and searching for information on the internet. She really likes to be able to open up a search engine and find the answer to any question right away. The problem with search engines is that she often gets a lot of unrelated information in response to her queries. Karen has a number of sites bookmarked on her computer for her favorite sports teams. She wants to create a similar set of bookmarks for sites that have information for Business Analysts. When she has a question, she can just open a web browser and select a couple of those sites to find the information she needs.

Indian man with Laptop

© Mateusz Zagorski. Image from BigStockPhoto.com

Raj Reddy is 32 years old. He graduated from a prestigious Engineering College in India with a B.S. in Computer Science, and worked as a programmer in India for 3 years. He then came to the US and completed an MBA with the goal of managing software projects. He has been working as a Project Manager for a major health insurance organization in San Francisco, California for the last 5 years, taking on roles of increasing responsibility. Raj is married and his wife is in India. He wants to return to India to join his wife and family, and to bring what he has learned about software development to some of the smaller companies in his home state.

Raj plans to be a consultant and carry a computer with a wireless card everywhere he works. He wants to be able to quickly find information on the internet to help him in his job. This will include information about Business Analysis, because he often finds that the roles of Project Manager and Business Analyst overlap, so he needs to know how to do both jobs.

When he is not as busy with work, Raj likes to continually learn new things. It is hard for him to sign up for classes, because he may not be available for every class meeting. So having the classes online in a self-study format is a great solution. He wants to be able to study the material whenever he has time, and does not want to have a deadline for when he has to complete the class. Raj is a friendly guy, and fears he will miss the daily interactions with people at work. He is looking for an online community that he can access any time he is online to chat with other Business Analysts.

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Now it is your turn.

Post a comment and let me know – does either profile seem like you? Which one and why?

Try writing one or more personas about your customers so that the people and their needs are more real to you.

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You are invited to re-publish articles from this blog, in your publication or website, as long as the article is intact and you include the following Byline paragraph (with live links) after each article you use…

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* Article used with permission from Wyyzzk, Inc.’s Resources for Business Analysts site at http://www.writingusecases.com This website of reports and tips contains information to help you succeed as a Business Analyst in IT.

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Tips for Business Analysts: Eliciting the Reason for the Project

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Any project that is started is started for a reason. There is some problem to be solved, or some opportunity to be met or a challenge to overcome. No matter how you word it, there is a reason for this project. Along with the reason, there is some person or group of people who have that reason for wanting this project to happen. In this tip, we will look at the use of imagination to elicit the reason for the project.

You may think this is unnecessary. If the project exists, there must be a reason for it. Ah, yes. But is that reason well-defined? Does everyone agree on the reason for the project? If the purpose of the project is not written, it is very likely that different team members and stakeholders will have different ideas of what the project is about. And sometimes those differences will be so radical, that you will have no chance of project success unless you resolve those differences.

You may find that the reason for the project is described in a document that was used to get approval for funding the project. This could be a Request for Proposal or an Initial Project Request. But the information in that document is not necessarily accurate, detailed, or complete. It is a place to start to get information about the reason for the project.

Another thing you can do is ask the various stakeholders what they think is the reason for the project. Then you can write what they tell you in a Project Vision document. But what do you do if the stakeholders disagree on the purpose of the project, or if you do not know who all the stakeholders are?

In this case, you might invite the stakeholders you know to come to a meeting of 1-2 hours duration. In this meeting, you will invite the stakeholders to use their imaginations to describe the project. As they share results, you will encourage them to discuss and come to agreement on the reason for the project. You may find by the end of the meeting that you have additional stakeholders to interview.

Be sure to include a meeting facilitator and a scribe in the meeting. You want to make sure to capture as much information as possible while you have the stakeholders together.

Here are a couple of ideas for stimulating the imagination to find out more about the reason for the project.

Ask the stakeholders to play a Future Think kind of game. They are to think to the future when the project is complete, and write a press release describing the product that is just being released as a result of that project. Here is a template:

<some future date> – <location of your company> – <company name> is pleased to announce the release of <product name>. This product has been created to <Benefit to the directly affected stakeholders> With this product <who and the problem being solved>. Further, <Benefit to indirect stakeholders>. Ultimately, <Benefit to the stockholders and end customers; financial benefit>.

Here is an example press release:

“August 28, 2010 – Seattle, WA – Wyyzzk, Inc. is pleased to announce the release of Gee Whiz. This product has been created to eliminate the need for washing clothes. With this product, anyone who spends time washing clothes will no longer have to do so. Further, there will be no need to buy a clothes washer or dryer, nor to go to a laundrymat to wash clothes. And this is good for the environment because there will no longer be the need to use water and soap to clean the clothes. Ultimately, this will save a lot of money for consumers, will protect the environment, and will generate substantial dividends for our stockholders.”

Another idea is to ask the stakeholders to pretend they are sales people who have to convince someone else to buy the product that was created in this project. Now when you are in sales, you have to think about the other person. So the stakeholders have to identify who they are selling to, what their problem is, and why this product is the best one to solve that problem. Remember there are always competing solutions, so what are they, and why is yours better?

You can play this imagination game by having the stakeholders write a sales script, but even better, use role playing. Have one stakeholder take the role of sales person and the other take the role of a skeptical customer. You can use a recorder or video camera to capture the dialogue, then review the recording later to find out exactly what was said.

These games provide a lot of insight into the thoughts and ideas of the stakeholders about the project. You will usually get much more detailed information from these kinds of exercises than you will get by asking a direct question such as “From your point of view, what is the purpose of this project?”

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Now it is your turn. Have you tried any of these kinds of exercises on your projects?

If you are working on a project where the reason for the project is not clear or the stakeholders disagree on the reason for the project, try one or more of these techniques for resolving the differences.

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You are invited to re-publish articles from this blog, in your publication or website, as long as the article is intact and you include the following Byline paragraph (with live links) after each article you use…

START BYLINE

* Article used with permission from Wyyzzk, Inc.’s Resources for Business Analysts site at http://www.writingusecases.com. This website of reports and tips contains information to help you succeed as a Business Analyst in IT.

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