Personas are a Thing for SharePoint Right Now. Here’s Why.

“Persona” is a big buzzword right now in our world (that is, the world of SharePoint if you are new to this blog). And it’s kind of genius, actually. It’s all about user-centered design. Here’s why it’s a thing for SharePoint.

Personas are a way for large enterprises to understand how their various team members use their intranet and what they need from it. Then, hopefully, they use that information to make it better. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but there is often a gap between what a thing offers and what people want from a thing. And in a workplace where there are thousands of employees and it is maybe not impossible but certainly not a good use of time to ask each person for their wishlist, persona development can help fill that gap.

I was honored to chair a “SharePoint for Internal Communications” conference in Atlanta in October and was treated to a presentation by the Mayo Clinic on their development of personas for their intranet enhancements. Then they were kind enough to have a follow-up call with me where they explained their process for persona development. Shout out to Gianna and John at Mayo for their time and willingness to share the fruits of their labor! We are certainly using personas with our clients at this point, whether it is with a hubley implementation or SharePoint intranet envisioning.

Since there is no reason to write what has already been written, this is a very good explanation of personas and persona development.

If you aren’t sure where to start, think about segmenting the teams in your org. Then ask for volunteers for focus groups (but call them something cool). You will want to have questionnaires (also called something cool) for the focus groups to fill out. Then you open the dialogue about your existing intranet and what they would like to see. Maybe it’s issues with navigation (“I can’t find stuff”). Maybe it’s relevance (“Search seems broken” or “Everything is 8 years old”). Maybe it’s hideous (“It’s hideous”). Marketing team members and, ahem, SharePoint consultants, are often good liaisons for these discussions.

If you ask leading questions and let these participants know that their voice will have a positive impact on the enterprise intranet, they will likely speak up. Also, people love to complain, so you should prepare yourself for tons of negative feedback. Like, oodles. But that’s great! Because it gives you problems to solve–and that is really what you need to fill the gap I mentioned above. This will be a large effort, but it will be worth it. Kind of like a holiday dinner that you have to host. So much work; so delicious.

Once you have your questionnaire feedback and user editorials (the complaining), make a list of wants and needs. Create this list for every focus group/segment. You should start to see overlaps. As we say as consultants, businesses are unique, but business problems rarely are. It’s kind of the same with people. Where you see specific needs, BOOM, that’s a persona. For example, if you have staff in the field driving forklifts in the snow or the heat, they will have different needs from your teams with lovely heated/air-conditioned cubes and desktop computers.

At this point, you start creating what are essentially characters. “Characterizations” is probably a better word, but characters are more fun.  You should be able to:

  • Explain the character’s job (clinical, administrative, support, etc.)
  • Describe the character’s location (field, remote, at headquarters, at a branch, etc.) and the type of workstation they have (desktop, mobile device, etc.)
  • List the character’s uses for the intranet (what should they be looking for?)
  • List the character’s wants/needs for the intranet (what would compel them to go there?)

And that’s a pretty dang good start to persona understanding and development. SPOILER ALERT: You’re going to find that field workers and team members at shared workstations want mobile functionality that is device agnostic. Everyone is going to want it to look better. And, yeah, search and navigation will probably be hot topics. I’m not psychic… I just do this for a living.

If you need help with persona development for your intranet, I know a guy!

Thanks for reading!


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