Personas as an integral part of how I work

I’m noticing personas popping up more frequently in my work.  Two years ago I wasn’t using personas in my work.  A year ago I would have made a very deliberate choice to use a persona to explore an aspect of a problem or opportunity.  Now there is a fluidity to when and how I use personas that has embedded itself in how I work and think.  In part this is a consequence of having  developed and delivered the ‘From Order Taker to Performance Partner’ workshop four times with Arun Pradhan earlier this year.  Development of personas was a step in the performance-based process at the heart of this workshop.  Perhaps this level of exposure and repetition has just ingrained the value of personas as part my process.  They’re an efficient and effective way to undertake people-centred exploration of issues and opportunities.

Example – Thinking about augmented workers

Last week I got ‘stuck’ writing a blog post about Industry 4.0 and tacit knowledge.  When this happens it sometimes helps me to hand-write, exploring what I know about a topic and what questions I have.  As you can see from my note-book page below I started to explore what people need to learn to become an augmented worker (people working closely with robots and Artificial Intelligence).  I very quickly drew up a small human shape and symbols to prompt me to brainstorm what a person would need to think, feel and do to be effective as an augmented worker.  While this is just a rough first draft, it illustrates how I used a persona to get a human-centred perspective on my question.


Example – Designing a New Operating Model

In July I ran a workshop with a software training team whose leader wanted to define a more sustainable operating model.  I wanted to introduce them to personas as a tool for designing learning and performance solutions.  I also saw a personas as a useful way of exploring the needs and motivations of different groups important to design of a new operating model.  It is easy to overlook the experience of the team itself as a stakeholder – so this is where we started.  I facilitated development of a persona for a representative member of their team.  I used an expanded version of the persona for this where we identified their motivation, pain points and needs in doing their job and providing a service.

Where and How Are You Using Personas?

A number of recent guests on my Learning Uncut podcast have spoken about how they use personas in their work.  Although the tool originated in design of products and services, it is being adopted by more Learning and Development professionals.  Personas are rapidly becoming a mainstream tool in learning and performance solution design.  I note that Connie Malamed wrote an article about using personas for Instructional Design way back in 2009.

How are you using personas?

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  1. #1 by Michelle Ockers on September 4, 2018 - 5:02 am

    The following was shared on Twitter by @Joitske

    I’ve used it several times as part of the target group analysis in learning design. It helps to talk about a neutral fictive character, rather than real colleagues. It is a rapid way of channeling people’s knowledge about their colleagues too.

    Michelle’s comment – I hadn’t thought about the benefit of neutrality – it’s a good point.

  2. #2 by Neil Von Heupt on September 4, 2018 - 2:55 pm

    The personas idea is a good tool but it’s really just another way of doing good needs analysis for any project, which should (but increasingly isn’t with the separation of deisgner and learner) be asking questions about who the learners are, how can we design to suit their preferences and context (and the content). I think I’ve always had a human centred design approach, probably grounded in my teaching days where the consequence of not designing for the little humans was chaos :). It’s nice that it’s catching on!

    • #3 by Michelle Ockers on September 5, 2018 - 9:42 am

      Agree that personas is one tool you can use in needs analysis for as an instructional designer. In my mind it has some specific advantages that may be overlooked or not tapped into with other approaches to needs analysis. The key one is building empathy and digging deeper into the perspective of a representative example (or several) of a typical member of the group a solution is intended to help. My experience is that empathy mapping element of persona development brings me fresh insights beyond more ‘objective’ or distanced approaches to needs analysis.

      Here’s a resource I’ve shared several times with others regarding empathy mapping –

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