Rebuild your personas to your next product innovation

It’s been a long time since I have first heard about building product’s personas. It was around 10 years ago, during the development of web news portals. Since then, that kind of communication need has been suppressed by Flipboard, Facebook and many others.

A lot have changed. Fortunately we have stopped — at least most of the time — building products according to the desires or ideas of high ranked executives and started prototyping to really understand the needs of who really matters: the customer.

However, even now with new frameworks as Design Sprint and others I still have to deal with some of the same challenges I had 10 years ago. One great example is the process of building personas. Inside this agile environment with new techniques to validate our hypothesis we have to go through that same step to understand the customers and validate their needs.

I’m not trying to start an argument in order to get rid of this process in a product framework. Not at all. Additionally, building personas is nothing more than trying to get closer to your customer and understand his needs. Of course. In order to make this possible it is necessary to really listen to them. Sometimes we have to deal with processes of brainstorming ideas to build this singular customer, with no real connection with them. It’s definitely clear that it won’t work that way. Some of the reasons for using personas are:

  • Create an empathy with the customer;
  • Better understand their needs;
  • Be able to classify your customers represented by a few fictional characters.

Despite its importance, the process of personas nowadays may not be as useful as it should be. After this stage, the next one in most design thinking processes is brainstorming. The ideas that come out are not necessarily attached to the persona’s greatest needs. Much worse, sometimes we list so many needs and when it comes the time to prioritize them we forget about the customer’s pain.

My point is that more and more we should understand the importance of the adjacent possibilities framework on product management. The idea was first developed by Stuart Kauffman, a theoretical biologist that argues that the evolutionary process that we’ve been through as homo sapiens has been driven by the development of one adjacent possible biological need at the time. Who brought this idea to the concept of digital products was James McQuivey with his digital disruption work.

One of the thoughts of this line of work is that to reach — and it’s not easy — your new adjacent possibilities you have to understand the last and very next need of your customer. That means focusing hard on the problem you have to meet next. Companies like Sonos and Logitech that work with the concept of distributing music throughout the house are listed by McQuivey as examples of that.

Back to the personas discussion. Those companies, in order to address their next need, they have to be a step ahead of the others particularly when the matter is understanding the customer’s pain. When you design your personas nowadays you have to list most of their needs and meet them with your product, right? That way we come up with a lot of ideas and most of the time a new product even if we already have one.

But what if we focus on that one mainly need exclusively and try hard to fulfill it with your product? That way it would be possible to create a stronger bridge between your personas and your next feature. Focus on your actual customer, not that one that still is away, on what really hurts them now, even if it seems small or obvious. Sometimes all the information that we get from our personas may be a distraction when it comes the time to think about their needs. We lack of focus.

That way, after we list all the needs and learn from the customer’s inputs what your next adjacent possible innovation could be, using this methodology it would be better to get rid of all the other information you have and try to build your next feature exclusive with a vision of one single need.

That would be one next step on this framework of building your personas and reinventing your product. Of course it is not a receipt for success. It takes a lot of pain and effort to make it happen. But it may definitely worth trying. What do you think?

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