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Two Additional Techniques

We could stop right now if we want to. By now a team might have spent an hour—almost certainly no more than that—and they will have put more thought into the users of their software than probably 99% of all software teams. Most teams should, in fact, stop at this point. However, there are two additional techniques that are worth pointing out because they may be helpful in thinking about users on some projects. Only use these techniques if you can anticipate a direct, tangible benefit to the project.


Identifying user roles is a great leap forward, but for some of the more important user roles, it might be worth going one step further and creating a persona for the role. A persona is an imaginary representation of a user role. Earlier in this chapter we met Mario who is responsible for posting new job openings for his company. Creating a persona requires more than just adding a name to a user role. A persona should be described sufficiently that everyone on the team feels like they know the persona. For example, Mario may be described as follows:

Mario works as a recruiter in the Personnel department of SpeedyNetworks, a manufacturer of high-end networking components. He's worked for SpeedyNetworks six years. Mario has a flex-time arrangement and works from home every Friday. Mario is very strong with computers and considers himself a power user of just about all the products he uses. Mario's wife, Kim, is finishing her Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford University. Because SpeedyNetworks has been growing almost consistently, Mario is always looking for good engineers.

If you choose to create personas for your project, be careful that enough market and demographic research has been done that the personas chosen truly represent the product's target audience.

This persona description gives us a good introduction to Mario. However, nothing speaks as loudly as a picture, so you should also find a picture of Mario and include that with the persona definition. You can get photographs all over the web or you can cut one from a magazine. A solid persona definition combined with a photograph will give everyone on the team a thorough introduction to the persona.

Most persona definitions are too long to fit on a note card, so I suggest you write them on a piece of paper and hang them in the team's common space. You do not need to write persona definitions for every user role. You may, however, think about writing a persona definition for one or two of the primary user roles. If the system you are building is such that it is absolutely vital that the product satisfy one or two user roles, then those user roles are candidates for expansion into personas.

Stories become much more expressive when put in terms of a user role or persona. After you have identified user roles and possibly a persona or two, you can begin to speak in terms of roles and personas instead of the more generic "the user." Rather than writing stories like "A user can restrict job searches to specific geographic regions" you can write "A Geographic Searcher can restrict his job searches to a specific geographic region." Hopefully writing a story this way reminds the team about Allan who is looking for any job on Maui. Writing some stories with user role or persona names does not mean that other roles cannot perform those stories; rather, it means that there is some benefit in thinking about a specific user role or persona when discussing or coding the story.

Extreme Characters

Djajadiningrat and co-authors (2000) have proposed a second technique you might want to think about: the use of extreme characters when considering the design of a new system. They describe an example of designing a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) handheld computer. They advise that instead of designing solely for a typical sharp-dressed, BMW-driving management consultant, the system designers should consider users with exaggerated personalities. Speficially, the authors suggest designing the PDA for a drug dealer, the Pope, and a twenty-year-old woman who is juggling multiple boyfriends.

It is very possible that considering extreme characters will lead you to stories you would be likely to miss otherwise. For example, it is easy to imagine that the drug dealer and a woman with several boyfriends may each want to maintain multiple separate schedules in case the PDA is seen by the police or a boyfriend. The Pope probably has less need for secrecy but may want a larger font size.

So, while extreme characters may lead to new stories, it is hard to know whether those stories will be ones that should be included in the product. It is probably not worth much investment in time, but you might want to experiment with extreme characters. At a minimum, you can have a few minutes of fun thinking about how the Pope might use your software and it just may lead to an insight or two.

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