How to use User Personas and the Context Scenario to get to MVP (for Lean Start-up)

The Tellagence Persona Family. We have five, but are focusing only on one for our MVP launch. (Also seen on these walls next to our Proto-Persons are a Product Design Brief, Design Principles Poster — lightweight tools that we use to keep us focused on the core UX design perspective as we are making feature and functional implementation decisions.

Being part of a five-person startup is something pretty swell.  I’m feeling a lot like I did just out of grad school in 1991 — energized, caffeinated, and ready to go!   Totally digging being the captain of my own UX team (of one) — designing the experience for a product that we believe will be really helpful for people trying to make some sense of social media marketing channels.

OK, that’s a lie, I’m really not a team of one. We, here, are five people who “get” that:

1. UX is super awesome.
2. We need it to build a great product
3. We can make that happen in an agile way and as a team.
4. To do it, we need lightweight tools and the ability to flex.

I’m blessed to be part of such a group.  So without buzzing too much on “lean UX” and “Agile,”  I’d like to show how we have updated some of the  techniques I wrote about in the past to get us to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

For years, I have personally adopted Leah Buley’s advice as a working mantra: “As a UX Team of one, often it’s necessary to adapt, adjust, and make things up as you go along. And that’s ok.”  — So when I came across her Lean Methods for the UX Team of One seminar a couple of years ago, I was psyched.  We started incorporating her methods and tools at Tripwire and got some successes in product definition out of those exercises.

Stella’s “brass-tack” Goal – Drives Minimum Viable Product as we define a solution that helps her solve one really big pain. If she achieves this goal, she will be successful. This goal begins the premise of her start-up to value context scenario.

Anyhow.  I’ve been sitting here in the early morning hours — at a point now where I am waiting for code that I can put in front of people in some final UX validation — looking around the room.  All of the product spec exists on our walls — and in JIRA stories — constantly re-prioritized to get to MVP.

The Install to Value Context Scenario helped us define MVP

A year ago, Matt and Nitin and I pulled together some Proto Personas for this product we are currently working on.  We focused on the essentials.  Who is this person?  What is their role at their company? What are their Goals? How are they successful?  What is their state of mind? What tasks are associated? HOW CAN OUR PRODUCT MAKE THEIR LIVES BETTER?  We came up with six.   Over time, we’ve focused on one core persona.   Her name is Stella.

Start-up to Value Context Scenario; twelve pages of narrative – 102 derived stories for prioritization. This story starts by naming Stella’s goal — identifies the pain she has in not being able to solve it, and then takes her step by step through the process of getting to success — using our new product.

Stella’s picture is everywhere in this room.  So is her story.   For this first release, FOCUS is the name of the game.  We have identified one “brass-tack” goal — if Stella achieves this goal, she is going to be wildly successful.   That goal is written in sharpie on a very unassuming lime green super-sticky post it note that is stuck to the story wall.

And then there are twelve pages of printed out narrative that describe Stella using our new product to meet her goal.  This narrative breaks down into six stacks of features and functions that make up an end-to-end success story.  We did not plan for six stacks — it just worked out that way.  As we wrote, we discovered things we needed, and found that things we thought we did, didn’t need to be included.

Next, we pulled user stories out of the context scenario.  One hundred and two.  We prioritized them.  We put up a blue tape line.  We walked around and moved those stories above and below that blue line until we all felt good about the Rel. 1 stories above the line.  Then, they went into JIRA (not magically — lots of typing was involved).

Focusing a product click-through on a particular goal (in this case answering a user question about her data) is helpful for contextualizing all the features and functions into a flow that makes sense.

First sketches before wiring up in Balsamiq. I left my sketchbook at home, but inspiration stuck in the Maui airport. This is a lovely little notebook picked up from the airport gift shop, and the purple pen worked just fine.

Time now for design.  When I am working on a product design where we are providing the user with analytics,  I always find it helpful to figure out what questions our user is going to have when they see the data.   To get to this, I took a bunch of raw data output from our algorithm — real alpha customer’s data — to them, and put it in front of them to see what happened.   Naturally they asked a bunch of questions.  One of those common questions became a central focus for some click-through design.

Balsamiq print outs with green post it notes that allow us to walk through the product from Stella’s perspective. The bottom drawings are iterated from the top set after a round of user sessions.

So we put Stella’s question on the wall — and wire framed a scenario that took her through a process of answering that question using the features and functions we had identified.  Naturally, this spawned more stories — and refined detail for our existing stories.  We also got to move some cards down below the blue line — always a good thing when you are crunched for time.

We started revolving door testing — working with wires and visually styled HTML and finally, now, with code.  We are constantly refining the design — trying to make it as simple as possible — and making sure we are building the right product.

It’s hard to believe that we have only been at this for 90 days.

Anyway, speaking of tick, tick, tick…, I just got a JIRA ping letting me know that code is ready for review, and I have to prep for UX sessions on Friday.

I’d love to hear how you guys are working with personas and context scenarios.

Published by JB

@uxsuccess Lean User Experience; Agile software development @Tellagence, I believe user success = business success. I talk about that here: Personal blog -

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s