June 21, 2019

Why Every Team Wall Should Have Personas on Them

As CEO and Product Owner for Scrum.org I get the amazing opportunity to visit lots of different companies. Recently I spent a week in Brazil visiting some amazing companies and talking about agility. The visit was fantastic for many reasons, but one thing did strike me as I toured many team rooms and looked at a large number of Scrum and Kanban boards. The walls lack any mention of the customer or mission. And then I realized that my team room also was lacking any mention of the customer as well! 

Scrum is an amazing framework, but it does nothing without a mission. The intent of Scrum is not to be agile; it is to deliver value and because the value is hidden behind complexity Scrum is required. Scrum encourages the empirical process, self-organization and continuous improvement to solve complex problems and deliver value. Each complex situation has a customer. Our recently released Professional Scrum with User Experience spends two days providing Scrum Teams with a set of ideas of how to unlock the customer, and encourages that customers, their motivations and needs are made TRANSPARENT.

I can hear a Scrum Myth coming on, “Isn’t the Product Owner responsible for the customer?’” Yes, the Product Owner often has a deep knowledge of the customer and the market they live in, but it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to know thy customer! It would not be very agile if every time we had to make a decision about the customer, we had to talk to the Product Owner.  The Product Owner makes decisions about value, which things to focus on and which things to do instead of other things. The Product Owner concentrates on economics. The team has to deliver value. They have 10000 decisions to make in pursuit of the economic value defined by the Product Owner. They need to understand the 'why', they need to understand the context, they need to have the motivation and desire to provide that value to the customer.

But there are still Scrum Teams that don’t know their customer! Or they have forgotten.

“A fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a product in a similar way.”

One approach to keeping the customer front and center is using customer personas. And when I say customer I do not mean people that pay, I include anyone that consumes the Product being built, this includes users, buyers, admins, etc. A persona is:

Alan Cooper is widely credited in using the term in his groundbreaking book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum. The book, as the title suggests encourages “creators” to take control of their work and engage the customer. Personas provide a tool for talking about customers in an abstract but practical fashion. They help inform the team by helping them ask questions like, “what would Bob do?” at Sprint Reviews or other inspection moments. They encourage healthy debate at Sprint Planning as we focus on outcomes for a particular persona. And, like everything in Scrum they enable us to inspect and adapt our understanding of them via delivering ‘stuff’. But perhaps the most important thing that personas give us is they help motivate the team because, though abstract they are about real people who need us to improve their lives! Personas connect the abstract product work to real human beings. Dan Pink described the value of knowing the context of the word in his amazing book Drive, the Surprising Truth that Motivates us as Purpose. Purpose along with Autonomy and Mastery are key ingredients to extrinsic motivation.  

“But we don’t know our customer and it seems silly to be creating these fictional characters,” I hear you shout. After all, we are professional teams focused on doing stuff, personas sound like a fluffy nice to have!

The reality is that teams can get going quickly and just spending an hour looking at the customer and the types of customers the product serves can really expose assumptions and misunderstandings. Everyone has their own view of who the customer is and by making it explicit and on the wall those views can be exposed and then reviewed. Once the first version is ‘up’ we can regularly refine it adding additional ideas, thoughts, and assumptions as we deliver value to real customers and get feedback.

The other great thing about hanging up your personas is visitors can provide some really valuable perspective. For instance, when another team visits on their way to the pub they see the persona and say, “wow I did not know you served that role, did you know we did X or Y?”. Also, when the boss comes down from their gold-plated office it provides a reason to talk. Personas are great conversation starters. And it is amazing what you learn when you make your customer and their pains transparent.

And at the very least it makes your team room and walls look cool :-) 

Scrum On.