Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Testing with personas ...

Last year whilst i was still at Kiwibank, I was lucky to attend a morning lecture by local company Optimal Usability on "Putting personas to work".

Many people who've worked with me will know I am not a morning person.  However I was glad to make this early morning event, mainly as within Kiwibank I got to network with a whole load of people I'd normally not have a huge amount to do with - Market Managers, Customer Experience etc.

A persona is mainly used for marketing - they are supposed to be a core of about 4-6 characters (who often have a bit of stereotype about them) who represent a cross section.  We had several at Kiwibank, and when we'd look at changing or offering a new service we'd look to see which of those personas would want in, and which might want to go elsewhere.

For both marketing and testing it's a powerful tool - it's where testing steps into the realm of method acting, and you try to see an application through another persons eyes.  This touches an important feature - your software might well functionally do everything that it's supposed to - but is it going to be something that people are going to feel comfortable using?

Personas should be a one-pager, of something people can instantly connect to, because everyone has met a "Pam" or "Tony" or "Chris" in their life (hence why here a bit of stereotype is handy is it's shortcut language).

Personas can be made from detailed market research to tie into a targeted customer base.  Whilst reading Elisabeth Hendrickson Explore It! she mentions personas as a tool for exploratory testing.

Whilst talking to Lisa Crispin about "software culture" recently she mentioned about how many of her team enjoy roleplaying.  In fact "exploratory testing with personas" is very much like role-play testing.  I couldn't resist trying to draw up some character sheets (I'm an ex-roleplayer, so don't act so surprised).

I wanted to imagine I had some form of "software management tool" (which we've all encountered at some point).  Maybe it was HP's Quality Centre.  Perhaps something like Pivotal Tracker.  Or New Zealands home grown Enterprise Tester.

I was going to work from scratch (although I have zero market research budget), then remembered it might be fun to revisit the people I call "the world's worst Agile Team" from An Agile Murder Mystery.   Maybe this group wasn't an idealised group for "understanding your market", but from a testing perspective they would allow you to thrash your software in ways you'd never before imagined ...

Mrs Peacock – Business Owner 

“I just want to know what the current status is” 

Personal Computer 
Mrs Peacock uses a Windows 7 laptop.  She’s out of the office a lot, and uses a variety of wi-fi points (some slow) to login.

Internet Explorer 8

Usage rights 
View ability only

Tool habits
Mrs Peacock is mainly interested in seeing the big picture of the project, and wants to be able to see clearly how things are going, and it be able to take her into any issues.  She wants to see how things have changed.
She uses her laptop a lot on slow connection.  She also depends on the trackpad (she doesn’t carry a mouse with her), so she relies a lot of shortcut keys and wants any icons to be easily clickable.

Colonel Mustard – Project Manager 

“I need to be able to assign work items”

Personal Computer 
Mustard has been upgraded to a new Windows 8 laptop, and has been known to take an iPad into meetings to check updates.

Internet Explorer 10

Usage rights 
Create work items and assign tasks

Tool habits 
Mustard is keen on being able to set work tasks to his team, see what they’re working on/progressing.  He sets pieces for all the team, but never himself works on end-to-end individual pieces.

He likes to be able to perform the same actions on multiple elements over having to keep repeating the same action.

Reverand Green - Architect 

“I wonder what happens if …” 

Personal Computer 
Green has made a big noise about being allowed to have a Macbook Pro, even though most of the company is on variants of Windows.


Usage rights 
Full Administration Rights

Tool habits 
Green often plays around with any new features, and will often try and come up with new ways to do things.
Forever optimising the work-flow.  Often this means changing the flow for which there is currently data in “the old system”, and hits migration issues.

Miss Scarlett – Business Analyst 

“What’s next?”

Personal Computer 
On a desktop running Vista.  Don’t ask her how she feels about that, as she feels she’s due an upgrade.


Usage rights 
Basic user – rights only over tasks assigned to her

Tool habits 
Scarlett doesn’t look at the big picture tool, just goes straight into and views the tasks assigned to her.  If work items aren’t assigned to her, she won’t go looking for work.

Prof Plum – Programmer 

“I don’t have time for this …”

Personal Computer 
Difficult to say – he has a cluster of a lot beneath his desk, running different flavours of Linux, and connect to a bigger Samba server that no-one is quite sure of the location of.  Certainly there are so many monitors on his screen, the company made major savings getting him to turn them off over Christmas … 

Firefox … with so many plugins you don’t want to know.

Usage rights 
Basic user – rights only over tasks assigned to him

Tool habits 
Prof Plum finds spending time updating his tasks an annoying diversion.  He dislikes intently being asked after changing something “do you really want to do this? OK / Cancel”.  He’d much rather it just does it, and there’s an undo button if he changes his mind.

When it comes to filling out any form, he’ll always do it with the minimum mandatory fields possible.

Mrs White - Tester 

“I don’t see what was wrong with the old way of doing things?”

Personal Computer 
Two years ago Mrs White was upgraded to a Windows Vista desktop, which had issues during updates.  She didn’t like it, and rescued her old XP machine, which IT is now struggling to find parts to keep going.
Because her eyesight isn’t the best, she runs the machine on low resolution so it’s easier for her to see the icons (people have tried to tell her there are better ways to do this, but she’s sticking to it).

Internet Explorer 7

Usage rights
Basic user – rights only over tasks assigned to her

Tool habits 
Mrs White spends a lot of time getting things right before submitting (unlike Prof Plum, she tends to fill in EVERYTHING).  Sometimes this means things get timed out.  It’s important to her that she doesn’t lose her work.

She’s also a creature of habit.  She knows a lot about the business area, but she really struggles with anything new.  She will make a lot of noise if changes mean she can no longer do something she used to be able to do.  She doesn’t like naming conventions or icons to change.

A source of testing inspiration?

Reading through that you probably have an idea of a few basic tests you'd like to run - cross browsers and computers for start.

But for Mrs Peacock you want to be able to login and quickly see "the big picture" and drill down.  Whilst Miss Scarlett wants to just be able to quickly see what's been assigned to her.  Can the system do both well without compromise?  Can this release cover Rev Greens desire to experiment vs Mrs Whites need for familiarity?

I found in writing these people out, I obviously went back to my source article on the Agile Murder Mystery.  But the key thing for "filling them out" was to find a picture of someone I felt "had the qualities".  Once I could see "who this person was like", a lot of the other details fell into place.  You will also notice in my choice of photos, I'm also a sci-fi geek (like you didn't know already).

If you want to find out more about personas - how to make them etc, the original presentation slides are still up here,

And Optimal Usability do all kinds of blogs, articles and even a newsletter about areas of usability, including personas.

You may not have a market research budget - in which case, just do what I've done, guess, then put in front of a business owner or marketeer and see what feedback they give ... go broad in your guesswork, and put some things which are deliberately provocative in there ...

  • "do we care about XP users?"
  • "what about all these browsers?  Are we just going to go with IE?  Why shouldn't we just go with IE?"
  • "why would someone want to access from an iPad browser?"
  • "should this be accessed outside an organisations server from public wi-fi?  Should it be in the cloud?  Do we have strong enough security?"
  • "companies don't work much on Linux do they?"
Have fun!


  1. I think when testing it's important to know your target market, a lot of which can come from analytics, which will help determine what OS/Browsers you test on/support. With such a wide array of combinations/browsers it's important to be able to prioritise Browsers based on the rendering engines and the percentage of the visits that use that rendering engine....

  2. Nice Mike... along the same sort of lines...

    Attitude Adjusters...